It was 50 years ago when Henry Robinson first became involved with Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD).
When he started as an intern back at the old Ayer High School in 1970, little did he know that over the next several decades, his life and career would evolve in ways that would make an undeniable impact on the community around him…
MUSD hired Robinson full-time in 1971, just after he finished pursuing his Masters in Social Studies Education at Stanford University. Just before that, Robinson had finished up his schooling at Santa Clara University, with a BA degree in History and Sociology.
He worked as a History Teacher at Ayer High School for two years, before moving on to Rancho Middle School to teach another two years of History there.
After Rancho, he went to work as a History teacher at Milpitas High. The year was 1975. He spent over two decades at MHS, and also became Department Chairman of the Social Studies Department, a position he held for a decade.
Robinson was also asked to be Advisor of the Vietnamese Club, a role he went on to serve in for eight years.
“The campus was changing because we were getting a lot of Vietnamese families moving into Milpitas,” said Robinson. “And they asked me to be advisor to the Vietnamese Club because I understood the culture. One of my emphases in History was Southeast Asia. I also served as a bridge for them culturally to the new community, basically explaining to them things culturally that might be different from the way they do things.”
In the late eighties, Robinson, along with two other teachers, put together the very first offering of Advanced Placement (AP) courses at Milpitas High School, allowing students to get credit if they passed the exam.
“The AP program started off primarily with History, English, Biology, and Calculus. And that was the beginning of the AP program there as we know it at Milpitas High School. It has since expanded to other areas,” explained Robinson. “It has allowed kids to compete at select colleges. When kids started taking AP classes, colleges started to look at that positively.”
Along with his teaching responsibilities, Robinson would also spend some of his time at the high school meeting with senior-year students and helping them to navigate the complex world of colleges, admission, and applications.
This is something Robinson continues to this day.
Ten years ago, he officially retired from the school district. However, after retirement, he started working part-time.
Nowadays Robinson works out of the Milpitas Police Department, serving as a liaison between the PD and the school district. He’s an At-Risk Specialist, and is dedicated to serving K-6 students in foster and homeless programs; he also monitors attendance for all MUSD schools.
“For kids having attendance problems, I do home visits and help them get back on track,” Robinson said. “If needed, I can do a home visit, or referrals to organizations or the school psychologist…”
He also works with families in need, namely helping them to find community resources. This, he noted, has proved to be particularly important since the COVID-19 pandemic started. He finds resources for families like Catholic Charities and local churches, or organizations that might provide scholarships.
“The resource that most families have needed lately is food,” said Robinson. “I deliver lunches to kids when families aren’t able to get the lunches themselves…And I’ve also referred them to food programs, like the Milpitas Food Pantry…”
He has also been dedicated to supporting people with finding and getting access to shelters, and even connects individuals with social workers to help them find jobs.
“Henry Robinson is an amazing help to our families in need. He and I work closely together to connect families to support services and to provide some compassion to families experiencing challenges,” said Nicole Steward, who is a School-Linked Services Coordinator for the school district. “When there are serious cases to deal with, Henry is the person you want in your corner. He’s a strong advocate for Milpitas students and we’re very lucky to have him as part of this district and this community.”
Back in June, at a virtual MUSD school board meeting, Robinson received a special recognition for his work impacting the lives of countless Milpitas families.
Superintendent Cheryl Jordan recently spoke to The Beat about how much she relies upon Robinson’s support and guidance:
“As a superintendent, I speak with him once or twice a week; he’s invaluable because he has the heartbeat of what’s happening in the city, and amongst the students and employees,” said Jordan. “He’s a quiet leader who’s behind the scenes offering support in so many ways that people don’t realize…”
Since COVID hit, Robinson has been regularly in touch with not only Superintendent Jordan, but other principals and teachers throughout the district, emailing them resources that might be helpful during this time.
“He created a digital resource library of what other districts across the nation are doing in regards to COVID,” said Jordan. “He would send 2-3 articles a day and so I have a file with all that research.”
Robinson’s work with the Police Department has also been valued among all who’ve seen him in action.
Milpitas Police Chief Armando Corpuz spoke of how much esteem those in the Police Department have for the man:
“I see his passion, his sacrifice, his commitment to helping people in our community,” said Chief Corpuz. “…dealing with at-risk members of our community — students, children and families — and his willingness to be available any time of day or day of the week; to commit himself to providing services to community members who are in need… he’s always there. That man has probably helped tens of thousands of people in our community.”
Robinson grew up in Selma, Alabama. He was there during the civil rights movement, working alongside people like John Lewis and CT Vivian. He even participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
“In certain areas, people didn’t have basic rights. And voting was one of them,” said Robinson. “So I took part in a lot of civil rights marches and demonstrations in Selma…”
Along with all the work he has been doing to uplift the Milpitas community, Robinson also enjoys cooking family meals. He’s also an avid reader and keeps up with all the latest research, especially in the field of education. He even speaks French, and has traveled around France extensively, mainly because his wife goes there for conferences and cultural events. His wife, who’s President of the American Association of Teachers of French, trains foreign language teachers at San Jose State.
Meanwhile, the Robinsons’ son is an executive at Nike, who has collaborated with his father to support the community:
“In the previous six years, my son has arranged for Nike to donate pairs of shoes and a lot of Nike clothes,” said Robinson. “I’ve been able to give those to students in need…”
One of the things that fulfills Robinson most? Seeing how well his former students are doing today, and knowing that he had a hand in shaping and educating them along the way. Some of his students include Councilmember Carmen Montano, MUSD Board Vice President Chris Norwood, and Brian Shreve, who is MUSD’s Director of Maintenance, Operations, and Transportation.
“Having spent my whole career in Milpitas is like seeing a baby growing up…the town has grown up,” said Robinson. “There are a lot of positive things happening in the community and the school district, and how they’re moving forward. The key challenge we have now is how to balance the concept of health and education, and how to have a buy-in with help from the community.”