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Remembering Virginia Scales

Former dean of Language Arts, ESL instructor dies at 84

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Remembering Virginia Scales

Virginia Scales, left, with Ron Levesque and Alice Gosak.

Virginia Scales, left, with Ron Levesque and Alice Gosak.

Courtesy of Alice Gosak and Rona

Virginia Scales, left, with Ron Levesque and Alice Gosak.

Courtesy of Alice Gosak and Rona

Courtesy of Alice Gosak and Rona

Virginia Scales, left, with Ron Levesque and Alice Gosak.

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When both of her children were in school, Virginia Scales ventured to San Jose City College to follow the dream she had since graduating from high school in Fresno:  she enrolled in a college class. Her first instructor was French professor Nicole Amon, and Virginia was entranced by Nicole’s kind manner and her teaching style. She went on to finish her coursework at SJCC and to enroll at SJSU as a French major.  She completed her Bachelor of Arts and went on to get a Master of Arts in linguistics.
While she was doing that, she returned to SJCC to work as a reading tutor. The job was not at all well-paid and the workload was beyond the job description. That led Virginia to take her first steps as a labor advocate: She organized the tutors to seek better wages and won.
By 1980, when Virginia had her M.A. in hand, positions came open in English-as-a-second-language, the exact field for which Virginia had trained. She was passed over for instructors who did not have her qualifications, leading to her second crusade. Supported by the dean, Leo Chavez, she lobbied to have the positions reopened and they eventually were, leading to the hiring of four ESL instructors on the same day. And thus began Virginia’s career of over 30 years at SJCC.
In time, Virginia became the ESL Program coordinator, a position she held from the mid-1980s until 1998. As busy as she was with her teaching and coordinating duties in ESL, Virginia also found time to serve as the president of the Academic Senate twice and to participate in the union negotiating team.
She was keenly aware of the inequities part-time teachers faced and threw herself into correcting them.  She worked to have banked leave recognized in the contract for tenured faculty and to make seniority rehire preference a reality for adjunct faculty.
Those who worked with Virginia on these efforts knew well how persistent, focused on detail and tireless she was. But no matter how hard she fought, she retained her kind and gentle manner.
Toward the end of her career at SJCC, Virginia became the interim dean of Language Arts, a position she filled with the same energy and thoroughness she brought to her earlier tasks. She retired in 2011 but continued to teach one class until 2015 when health issues caught up with her.
Virginia died in her home Saturday, Oct. 6, at age 84.
One final advocacy Virginia took on was the fight to keep alive the SJCC Journalism Department, which had been under threat of closure a few times, including in 2013-14 because of what key administrators considered low enrollment.
Some administrators also wanted to place limits on the expression of opinion by student journalists. The program had no full-time instructors and the classes that supported the publication of The Times were taught by one part-time instructor, who bore an unfair burden of essentially running the department without adequate compensation.
Virginia stepped in to direct the writing of a program review of the department, demonstrating the true costs and value of maintaining journalism at SJCC and the publication of The Times. The review also showed that the program in fact suffered from lack of adequate funding.
Virginia also led an effort to persuade the Faculty Academic Senate to request a full-time teaching position for Journalism. While her efforts did not lead to such a position, it did result in renewed strong senate support for the program and for the voice of the students as expressed through The Times.
This fight for The Times fully encapsulates all the strengths and values of Virginia, and her tremendous passion for SJCC, its students and faculty, and for fairness and justice.
We have lost a true champion!

2 Comments

2 Responses to “Remembering Virginia Scales”

  1. Susan Price on October 26th, 2018 11:03 pm

    I was so shocked to hear of Virginia’s death altho Victor and I had not seen her for several years. I have such fond memories of her in the Studies In American Language dept at SJSU where I first met her. Today many of us involved in linguistics who knew each other through either SJSU or SJCC got see one another again. It was lovely to see so many mutual friends. And many thanks to Alice and Ron for writing this obituary of Virgina. I did not know that she was so politically active in the community and at SJCC. She was always standing up for those whose voices were not heard. Thank you to Virginia and Chuck for letting us live in their garage for a month after we returned from 3 years teaching in China in 1983. Life is indeed a “dash” – it passes so quickly.

  2. Sylvia Suzanne Parlavecchio on October 27th, 2018 1:16 pm

    My Aunt Virginia Scales was a scholar throughout her life. Her voice represented the people she spoke on behalf of. We were very close and she became my Mentor not just my aunt. I see she will not be forgotten as she walked along the trail of life picking up stones and polishing them until they became bright and shiny and new.

    Those who knew her will not forget her; Her Smile, her laughter, her love of family, her love of great Italian food, her soups, her passions, her love of scarfs, her love of travel and her love of helping all people, especially her ESL students. Not enough could ever be said about this fragile strong butterfly that came to us with a smile and departed the same way. God bless my Auntie. ❤️

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Remembering Virginia Scales