Board profile: Jim Zito
Posted 10/24/2016 03:23PM

Molly Edgar

Between his past experience in the high tech industry to his time on the San Jose City planning commission, Evergreen School District board member Jim Zito is no stranger to complicated problems. Committed to making the Evergreen community the best it can be, Zito has worked hard to bring transparency, equity, and new ideas to the school district.

Although an Evergreen community member since 1984, Zito entered the school board in 2010 as an outsider. In fact, he ran and won what had been one of the first contested school board elections in about 10 years. He brought to the board unique perspectives on various issues, influenced by his prior experiences. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Zito grew up in a lower-middle class family with five children. His father, a World War II veteran, worked for over 40 years with the NYC Transit Authority as a union mechanic, and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. He was raised with a "traditional Italian-Catholic upbringing", and learned at a young age that "You don't have the right to complain unless you are willing to work to solve the problems." This value continues to guide him today.

In 2002, Zito was appointed to the San Jose City planning commission, and served two four-year terms. The commission oversaw land usage issues, and at times handled over one billion dollars worth of development. The team was challenged with meeting the needs of the community and considering the impacts that certain developments would have on residents. Although encouraged to run for the Evergreen School Board during his 6th year on the planning commission, Zito remained committed to finishing his second term and ensure that pending development projects were completed.

Zito continued his community-minded efforts as he became the leading architect in the creation of the District 8 Community Round Table (D8CRT) and its first president. Along with other community members, he established the group as a 501c3 non-profit organization and outlined its guidelines and policies. The round table served as an independent body that hosted a variety of community events. During local elections, the round table organized forums in which all candidates would speak on a variety of issues with community members.

His passion and dedication for the community ultimately brought him to the school board. Although keeping up with the constantly-changing world of education is no easy task, Zito remains focused on the goal that drives his work. "What is the problem we are trying to solve?", Zito asks. "I always go back to that question when things get complicated or contentious." For the board members, that problem is to provide the best education possible for the students in the district. He acknowledges that with a question like that, there will be a range of solutions offered. Being a board member involves sifting through these ideas in order to find the ones that best meet the needs of the district and community.

Zito acknowledges that each board member contributes a unique strength to the group, allowing them to collaborate and accomplish a variety of tasks. His prior experience in the business world has made him well-equipped to work on matters concerning the budget, resources, and investments. He has used his leadership on the board to create a focus on fiscal stability and sustainable use of resources within the district. One of the challenges facing many public school districts today is the issue of equity among school sites. Zito feels strongly about ensuring that each student in the district has access to equal resources and support. Because many of the factors that contribute to a child's success are outside of the student's control, he feels it is the responsibility of the school district to utilize resources in a way that directly benefits each student. To do so, Zito has supported efforts to provide student services and academic programs equally to all school sites. Like the issue of equity within the district, Zito approaches each challenge with an open-minded perspective shaped by what he has learned through his unique experiences.

While working in the high tech industry, Zito was given opportunities to travel around the world as he managed many global technical centers and projects. During his time abroad, he paid close attention to the way that his clients and affiliates saw the world, approached problems, and ran their businesses and schools. From this experience he discovered the vast amount of wonderful ideas that the world has to offer. He sees high value in all that the United States can learn from other countries. Through his own travels, he created a "database of best practices", and was able to apply some of these best practices to his work on the school board.

Reflecting upon his six years of service on the board, Zito is proud that he has remained true to his philosophy of looking outside for the best practices, and learning from successes and failures. He is proud of the innovative and progressive nature of schools within the district like the Lobo School of Innovation and Bulldog Tech, and will continue to work to see more investment in project-based learning schools. As a board member he will continue advocating to not only encourage growth within these schools, but also promote innovation and new ideas among teachers and all district employees. He commends the teachers who volunteered to join the founding teams of the new project-based learning schools, and admires their ability to take risks and go the extra mile.

Zito hopes to continue his efforts to bring equity, transparency, and best practices to the school board and district. In addition to his wide array of experience in the public and private sector, he also offers a unique parent perspective. All three of his children attended Evergreen schools, including his youngest son, who is now an eighth grader in an Evergreen middle school. "I look at all the students in our district in the same way that I look at my son. I want to provide these students with encouragement and opportunity," Zito says. He appreciates the value of positive role models in a child's life, and has made it a goal to help students identify these role models in their lives. Throughout his time as a board member, he has supported policies that engage parents and community members in the district, and ensure that their voices are heard when making decisions that affect them.

Despite the challenges and complexities of the issues that the Evergreen school board must handle, Jim Zito remains hopeful and focused on the larger picture. By thinking outside of the box and looking outside the district for new ideas, he hopes to continue to promote innovation and growth within Evergreen schools. Through collaboration with community members, Zito is committed to promoting "fiscal stability, academic excellence, and expanded academic programs at all of Evergreen schools". Zito's passion and dedication to the community play an important role in his life, and will continue to bring a meaningful contribution to the Board of Trustees.