The Cutting Edge: Computing / Technology / Innovation : Q & A: Susan Hammer : San Jose Mayor Puts Computers to Work on Improving Schools

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Susan Hammer

Title: Mayor of San Jose

Age: 55

Interests: Tennis, movies, the San Francisco Giants and its San Jose Giants farm team, reading mysteries and biographies

Civic causes: Affordable housing, child care, education, the arts, revitalization of downtown San Jose

Family: Hammer and her husband, Phil, have two sons and a daughter

Computer: Phil tends to monopolize the family PowerBook; Hammer plans to get her own this summer

On getting--belatedly--aboard the high-tech bandwagon: "I'm very low-tech, but we are on-line. I'm hooked."

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Time was that high-tech companies could lure executives to Silicon Valley with the promise of great business opportunities, fine weather and a top-notch school system. No more.

The decline of California's education system--even here--has appalled Susan Hammer, 55, who took office as San Jose's mayor three years ago. She thinks that computers in classrooms can help turn things around.

San Jose has committed $1 million for the effort, which also has funding and support from many Silicon Valley companies. A pilot program funded by Pacific Bell is under way in four high schools--Lynbrook, Overfelt, Pioneer and Del Mar--where students are tapping in to the Internet, the mother of global electronic networks.

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Q: Is it practical to have this kind of program when many people in America cannot read a bus schedule or even a "See Dick run" book? Is it really going to work?

A: From the little I know, one of the ways to create a level playing field . . . in a classroom is to have all students have the same educational opportunities, and I think computers can provide that, where (students) have the opportunity to access the same kind of information, communicate between schools, access libraries around the country. If they're doing a story on Martin Luther King, how nice it would be to be able to access the museum in Memphis or get information from Atlanta about him. Kids are just being taught different ways and at different levels, and they're learning different things. So I see this as a way to really bring parity among schools.

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Q: Are teachers perhaps a harder sell than students?

A: This is more than just kids getting familiar with a word processor. You have to get teachers to buy into it and do teacher training. One Saturday there were I don't know how many teachers in a room at Del Mar High School going through training. So my sense is, the teachers have a commitment and an interest in this. We're going to have a three-week training session this summer and the idea is to train a quarter (450) of the high school teachers in San Jose, and I think you're going to find every one of those slots filled.

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Q: Ultimately, the idea would be to roll it out to everybody?

A: Oh, yes. We've got a four-year plan. Do the high schools, and then we'd like to have every school. Each school has a private-sector company that's matched with them and that helped them develop their business plans. Our hope is, other cities in the county will be able to benefit from some of the groundwork.

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Q: Aren't people asking whether the city can really afford to spend money on technology rather than school lunch programs, textbooks and athletics?

A: I don't hear that. Feedback has been positive. We're doing a collaboration that people see as a unique opportunity. It's not going to be at the expense of those other programs.

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Q: Are you fairly low tech now?

A: I'm very low tech. One of the things I'm going to do this summer is become much more literate. I'm going to get a PowerBook and get trained. I have a lot of contact with people all over this valley. It would be nice to be able to communicate, e-mail and other things, not only within City Hall. I had more fun sitting around the Mercury News (which has an on-line service for readers) one night. I'm hooked.

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