Board profile: Sylvia Alvarez
Posted 09/02/2016 11:16AM

Molly Edgar

Sylvia Alvarez is Evergreen's longest serving member. Serving 14 years on the school board and 27 years as a teacher, Alvarez has played an integral role in the development and progress of Evergreen School District. Her dedication to her community led to her involvement in politics and social activism, and in 2012 it earned her the title of Woman of the Year for the 13th Senate District, presented by State Senator Elaine Alquist.

Born in Los Angeles, Alvarez moved to San Jose where her father worked as an assembly line worker for the Ford Company. Her father worked diligently toward his goal of all four daughters receiving a high school diploma. To the surprise of her family, Alvarez decided that she wanted to attend college and become a lawyer. Although her counselor at Milpitas High School doubted her ability to test well enough to make it to a university, Sylvia proved her wrong by succeeding in rigorous college prep courses during her senior year. Because of her hard work, Sylvia became the only Latina from her high school class to attend a four-year university after graduation.

Alvarez studied at San Jose State University and was among only 10 Latina peers at the time. During her college experience, she immersed herself in community service and civil rights movements. San Jose State also brought Alvarez and her late husband, Salvador, together. Sharing a common passion for social justice, they both became involved in the Chicano Rights Movement and worked on the same causes. They raised four children who then inherited this passionate dedication to social justice.

Alvarez's own upbringing and her commitment to social justice shaped the role she would play in the district. As a teacher of 27 years within the Evergreen School District, she was able to identify with many of her Latino students and their experiences with education. When she first got her start as an educator in the district, Alvarez was disheartened by the underrepresentation of Latino teachers and females in principal roles. "I was concerned both as a teacher and a parent that kids did not have faces that looked like them in teacher roles", she reflects. She aimed to introduce the Latino students in the district to teacher role models that they could identify with. With the support of other parents in the district, Alvarez advocated for the hiring of more Latino teachers and female principals in the district.

Alvarez continued these efforts beyond her teaching career and into her role as a board member. She acknowledged the value of family in education, and took measures to better involve families not only in the education of their children, but in the decisions that the district made. She recognized a need within the Latino community to provide resources that would help parents prepare their students for college. By raising private money and reaching out to Evergreen Valley College, Alvarez organized a program in which instructors from the college taught courses at district school sites that were available to Evergreen parents. These courses allowed parents to learn about the college curriculum and the process that their students would eventually go through.

One of Alvarez's most noteworthy accomplishments as a board member was the creation of her program, Frontload for Success in 2005. After attending a conference in San Diego and learning about a similar program in the San Fernando Valley, she put her plan into action here at Evergreen. Students with a B grade average or higher who would be the first in their families to attend college were identified in middle school. These students would be invited to participate in the program, and would agree to maintain their academic performance throughout high school and stay active in their campuses and communities. In Evergreen District, the students who follow through with the agreement are guaranteed and reserved a spot at San Jose State University if they chose to attend. Alvarez rallied support from the Silicon Valley Education Foundation to maintain this program, and she is proud of its success. She acknowledges the value of first-generation college students working hard to secure a spot at a local university, and believes all other districts should follow suit.

With this program, Alvarez aimed to empower families and students through education. During her time as a board member, she also created a local chapter of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. She invited not only parents, but students in the Evergreen community to participate. Students received leadership training and were educated about civil rights. By inviting families to participate, Alvarez gathered a group of passionate community members to fight for the causes that affected them. She and her husband even organized a bus trip to bring members of the council to the state capital to meet with the California attorney general about a community matter that was important to them. Her goal behind creating the LULAC chapter and its youth council was to "educate Latinos about their rights and give them the resources to utilize their rights." Alvarez explained, "Families need to learn to fight for themselves." As a board member, she took measures to meet with parents to receive feedback about their children's experience in school. She and other board members asked for opinions on classroom instruction, schedules, and community-wide issues.

At the heart of her efforts as a teacher and board member is family. Alvarez expresses that she has thoroughly enjoyed working with families, providing services to families, and empowering them. Sylvia Alvarez has watched the Evergreen district and community change and grow for decades. She has experienced Evergreen community as a resident, parent, teacher, and board member, and has given so much back to it while in each of those roles. After 14 years on the Board, there is still no slowing down for Alvarez. "I'm always going to do something. I've always found a way to serve," she says. She hopes to one day travel to Guatemala or El Salvador and do missionary work in communities there. Evergreen School District and the entire community is grateful to the passion and dedication Sylvia Alvarez has provided in her many years of service.