New SVUDL Partner Schools and Organizations for the 2018-19 School Year

Part 1: Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School and Meet New SVUDL Head Coach Robert Burns

By Amy McElroy

This fall, the Silicon Valley Urban Debate League (SVUDL) celebrates going back to school by highlighting our new partner schools and a new head coach. The first of these is Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School, located at 1349 East Santa Clara Street in San Jose. The talented staff led by principal Joe Albers, provides college prep academics and professional internships to students in underserved communities.

According to Cristo Rey Board member and SVUDL’s own Board Chair Willie Hernandez, “SVUDL is reaching students from these same communities and teaching critical skills of analytical thinking, argument and communication.” Hernandez, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of the Legal Department at HPE, said, “It is an honor to bring these two organizations together through this partnership and I look forward to seeing their work together elevate the life success of these young future leaders.”

 Hernandez is joined on the board of Cristo Rey by an impressive list of educators, business people, civic and clerical leaders, and those experienced working with at-risk youth.

The Mission of the larger Cristo Rey Network of 35 schools to “transform urban America one student at a time” dovetails with the SVUDL’s own mission statement: “Through the rigor and excitement of the smart sport of debate, SVUDL helps youth tap the power of their voices to compete, excel, and change the world.”

Likewise, the curriculum at Cristo Rey compliments the overall goals of SVUDL. Focused on preparing students for success in college, the high school’s courses help develop skills such as research, classroom debate, advocating for injustice, political and social involvement. Together, Cristo Rey and SVUDL can help hone these skills and offer students opportunities to improve their public speaking abilities while engaging in competitive debate.  

SVUDL’s newest head coach, Robert Burns, will be guiding the way for these students as they explore the world of debate. As a high school student growing up in Atlanta, debate provided Burns the window for critical reflection on the social and political world around him. While a freshman attending college on a debate scholarship, he qualified to the college national championship. He also worked as an assistant debate coach while an undergraduate, completing his B.A. in 2001.  

After some years teaching college, the research skills and revolutionary ideas Burns learned in debate eventually led him to return to coaching at Lindenwood University in Missouri. Burns recruited and coached the first African American women to win both the CEDA and NDT collegiate national championships. For his work training first year college debaters, Burns received the Dick Stein Coach of the Year award in 2013.

Turning his focus to high school, Burns founded the policy debate team at North Star Academy in Newark, where he taught speech and debate to every grade level from 2014-2018. Burns coached two New Jersey Novice State Champions and the first varsity policy team in New Jersey history to win the prestigious Harvard debates while at North Star. This past year, two of his varsity teams finished as quarterfinalists and octafinalists at the 2018 Tournament of Champions.

Together with the coaching expertise of Burns, SVUDL and Cristo Rey have formed a dynamic new partnership to help underserved students find their voices and bright futures through the power of debate.