Editor’s Note: Here we take a look at candidate Jessee Espinosa who is running for the Area 2 seat on the Merced City School District’s Board of Education against Tsia Xiong.
Jessee Espinosa grew up in a Merced family with deep roots in the community, and he is following a pathway to success through student advocacy, active community volunteerism, leadership opportunities.
The 21-year-old UC Merced student has been recognized for his passion, energy, and drive to make a lasting impact in the community, and his work with educational leaders at multiple levels.
The candidate says he was encouraged to run for the Area 2 seat on the Merced City School District Board of Education by Miguel Lopes, the former board member who resigned from his position in June.
“Coming from someone who knew what it took to be successful in that seat, and who believed I would do a great job, I was highly encouraged to believe this was a huge opportunity for me to have a lasting impact in the community I grew up in,” Espinosa says. “Since then, I have been immersed in conversations with MCSD educational leaders about the problems they are experiencing. Many of the conversations with principals, teachers, staff, and concerned parents bring up concerns that resonate with my own experience in our Merced education system. Our students are often falling behind in literacy and math development, our schools suffer from relatively low attendance rates, and many of our families suffer lack of access to basic resources. There are high rates of diversity, English-learners, and low-to-moderate income level households. …
“Not to say our school system does not provide opportunities. I am a product of Merced’s school system. I know it provides opportunities to succeed. In fact, our school system serves as the beacon of hope for many students who want to rise above the current conditions.”
Espinosa says the district needs a shift in priorities and strategies in order to ensure all of our students have that opportunity to succeed.
“We have an award-winning Pre-K/T-K program that doesn’t enroll enough students to reach capacity. Between Merced College and UC Merced, we have a fast-track system to a university or vocational degree program that doesn’t properly communicate that value to early students. Between Title 1, LCFF, and LCAP funds, we have a significant amount of extra funding coming to our area that is supposed to ensure equity for our students, but doesn’t.
The candidate believes local schools need bold, innovative, and data-driven solutions to meet student needs and to solve community problems that have persisted over time.
“We need to push a strong early education campaign targeted at all underperforming communities. We need our schools and nonprofits to engage students early, and keep them engaged over time. We need to improve our student’s performance, confidence in themselves, and excitement about coming to school. We need to make it easier for parents to engage with the school system and improve the understandability of the budget so all community members can engage in holding the distinct accountable to results.”
Espinosa says there is something unique to his candidacy. “I’ve laid out specific plans I’d advocate for — on how we address the achievement gap, how we improve literacy and STEM performance, how to increase student attendance, increase access for parent engagement, and increase the transparency and understandability of the budget process so all community members can hold our district accountable to results for our children. I believe a clear vision for the district and how to achieve it are crucial to a successful term.”
He says the board could benefit from having the perspective of someone who has been a student in Merced, in the 21st century.
“In today’s classroom, learning through a screen is not unique to distanced learning. Computers are the new classrooms. We use our phones and social media for class projects. We need at least one perspective on the board that understands the way that technology influences student’s learning in today’s classrooms. I also believe that considering how large the Hispanic demographic is in Merced, we need Hispanic representation and that is a unique qualification I have.”
Espinosa describes himself as a fourth generation proud Mercedian. His great grandfather helped establish the “Gateway A’s” Model A Club that still runs in Merced Parades to this day. His grandparents, Donna and Richard Rogers, used to own and operate Rogers Dairy for 25 years. They now own and operate Roger’s Farms, an almond orchard in the McSwain agriculture area.
Espinosa’s mother grew up in Merced as well, having moved away just long enough to meet his dad in Arkansas. That’s where Espinosa was born, but the family moved back to Merced for good when he was only 10 months old.
For more than 12 years, Espinosa’s father was a military man who taught his children the value of sacrifice and service.
“My mother was the smartest, hardest working woman I knew,” Espinosa says. “Together, through hard work and perseverance, my parents built up their first small business, Advanced Roadside, a local towing company in the area. It didn’t make us rich, but it taught me the value of hard work in providing for the ones you love and achieving your dreams.”
Espinosa spent his entire educational career in the Merced-area school system. He attended Pioneer for Pre-K, McSwain Elementary for K-8, and Buhach Colony High School where he graduated in 2017.
“My life story was pretty normal,” he says, “until the summer before my sophomore year of high school brought hardships to my otherwise positive life. Due to circumstances beyond my control, my mother left my life and my father left this world. My world was thrown into turmoil and my brother and I moved in with our grandparents, who have supported us well beyond our high school years. However, with time these seeds of distress grew strength and resiliency in me. …
While still in high school, I got involved in my school’s newly founded debate team and little did I know this would be the start of finding my life’s passion. Debate is about forming and defending policy solutions to the world’s problems. What I learned in debate is that government actions matter. Whether it be small local change, or large federal actions. Those actions affect the lives of everyday citizens. And what remains more impressive than that, is that we all have an opportunity to have an actual effect on that powerful process. It simply takes effort to learn how, and the passion to commit to it. It is for reasons like this, and personal aspirations to make meaning of my life, that I began to involve myself in every community effort I could.”
Espinosa attended Merced College and became involved in student advocacy. He says: “Because of my energy and passion to make a positive impact, I became associated with Merced College educational leaders, who asked me to serve on Merced College’s Five-Year Master Planning Committee. This was my first experience with long-term educational development planning. Additionally, I was asked to play a pivotal role in Merced College’s Bond Measure’s effort to expand educational facilities earlier this year as the field operations manager, and I heavily supported those efforts hand in hand with education leaders throughout the region.
Espinosa eventually graduated in 2019 with an A.A. in Behavior Sciences. He is currently studying at UC Merced, and expects to earn B.A. in Political Science in the spring of 2021. He is also applying to grad school this semester to pursue a PhD in Public Policy.
Meanwhile, the candidate has been actively involved in the Merced community. He joined “Lion’s International,” and through this, was soon granted the Program Director position at the Leadership, Experience, and Opportunity program at Merced High. He directed the Lift While You Lead program at Yosemite and Golden Valley High Schools. He is a graduate of the Leadership Merced program. He is also a co-founder of the Rotary Community Corps, a local non-profit with the aim of developing a community workforce of volunteers capable of addressing any issue that arises in our community.
“In response to the sudden closure of our schools and small businesses, we have had significant achievements in distributing nearly 5,000 masks and hundreds of boxes of food to populations of people in need, right here in our own community. We recently adopted a park in south Merced and by coordinating with our schools and other non-profits, aim to enhance the infrastructure and develop youth opportunities for kids in our community.”
Espinosa has been endorsed by the Merced City Teachers Association.