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Torlakson or Tuck? Who will you choose for state Superintendent of Public Instruction?

Marshall Tuck greets Dan Hatfield

Marshall Tuck greets Dan Hatfield

Tom Torlakson walks into Contra Costa Times editorial board interview

Tom Torlakson walks into Contra Costa Times editorial board interview

An incumbent former teacher who is a seasoned politician is running against a challenger known as an education reformer and political outsider in the race for state schools chief.

In interviews with the editorial board of this newspaper, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and his opponent Marshall Tuck revealed similarities and differences in their opinions about education issues.

Torlakson said he waiting to see the final judgment in the recent Vergara court case, where a judge struck down California’s teacher tenure laws, before deciding whether or not to appeal.

“We want the most highly qualified, excellent teachers in front of all of our students in all of their classes, so I am working diligently on different ways to accomplish that,” Torlakson said. “At the same time, I want to make sure that the final judgment doesn’t detrimentally affect our ability to recruit and retain our teachers.”

Granting tenure after two years is reasonable if teacher training programs provide hands-on classroom experience and if competent administrators provide adequate programs to mentor and evaluate teachers, along with peer reviews when they first become teachers, he said.

Tuck wholeheartedly supported the judge’s decision and promised to drop any appeal the state files if he’s elected. He said most people he’s talked to in the state believe that tenure laws are not benefiting kids.

“I think that kind of lack of leadership — where it requires a lawsuit by students rather than true leadership by elected officials to really drive change that we know our kids need — was a big challenge,” he said.

After the lawsuit was filed, Tuck said the state superintendent of public instruction, whose job is to advocate for kids, should have been the first witness for the plaintiffs. After the ruling came out, Tuck said the state superintendent should have immediately begun working to fix the system.

Both men are passionate about improving education statewide. They agree that it’s important to help charter schools succeed and to share best practices among teachers at all public schools. They also want to help schools involve parents in their children’s education.

However, they have taken different paths to accomplish their goals.

Torlakson has worked as a classroom teacher and legislator, collaborating with others to pass laws to benefit students. While in office, he has convened education leaders and others to create a Greatness By Design report focused on “supporting outstanding teaching to sustain a golden state,” A Blueprint for Great Schools report, No Child Left Offline report and a report on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM. He has worked to implement Common Core standards and the new Local Control Funding Formula, which shifts more money to schools with a high percentage of disadvantaged students.

“I’m determined. I‘m a bulldog when it comes to getting things done,” Torlakson said. “I’m a coalition builder. I’m a team builder. I’m a coach. I’m a teacher. I’ve done some good work by building strong teams.”

Tuck, who started his career as an investment banker in his early 20s, later transitioned into running Green Dot charter schools, then working with the Mayor of Los Angeles to turn around low-performing schools in the city.

“I jumped into education full time in 2002. I made the decision that I wanted to spend my time and energy helping as many people have a better life as possible,” he said. “(With the) combination of values I was raised with growing up, I decided, ‘I’m jumping off the material success train and jumping on the helping people and better life train.’ And to me, there’s nothing better than education to do that.”

Torlakson has strong backing from the California Teachers’ Association. Tuck says the voices of parents should be given more weight.

But, like Torlakson, Tuck said change can only happen if everyone comes together behind common goals.
“Without question,” Tuck said, “to get to where California needs to get to — which is everybody focused on a kids first agenda — we’re going to need everybody on the same team.”

Here’s the complete video of the Torlakson interview:

Here’s the complete video of the Tuck interview:

Here are two short videos of Torlakson and Tuck in which they were free to talk for one minute about why they want to be California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction:



Who do you support in the state Superintendent of Public Instruction race?

Posted on Monday, August 4th, 2014
Under: California, Education, Tom Torlakson | 3 Comments »

State Superintendent of Public Schools outlines some plans for 2014

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks at his inauguration at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord.

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks at his inauguration at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord.

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, is already gearing up for his re-election run next year.

“It’s the toughest work I’ve ever done, but the most rewarding work,” said the Pittsburg resident, who is a former Mt. Diablo school district science teacher and cross country coach. “I love working with students. I’m a teacher and a coach and this gives me a chance to work on a large scale to help students across the state — not only help them, but be inspired by them. I am just amazed at what students are doing and what a great future they have and what potential we could have helping them get their education.”

During an end-of-the-year interview, we discussed several issues, including the new Common Core standards and the state’s school funding formula, which will appear in a story in this newspaper. In this blog, I am excerpting another portion of the interview related to Torlakson’s emphasis on student absenteeism and career technical education.

“Q. What can be done to cut down on student absenteeism and why is that important?

A. On the big focus points for next year, including absenteeism, we have to have parent involvement. We recently had a chronic absenteeism symposium in Orange County. We called it ‘Keep kids in school and out of court.’ It’s the whole idea of turning off the faucet on the school-to-prison pipeline with intervention — more counselors and on-campus suspensions, instead of sending them off to their neighborhood. We’re looking at disproportionate suspensions of African Americans and Latinos. How can we help diffuse situations, help with problems in their lives, implement more effective restorative justice programs and provide more counselors to help these students?

In some areas like Oakland, Richmond and Los Angeles, 20 percent of kindergartners are chronically absent. Once that starts, students get farther behind. We already know low-income an English learners come into kindergarten with one-fifth the vocabulary of students who come from homes where parents read to them. You can’t learn if you’re not there, even if you have the best teachers and best facilities. We need services and interventions to help parents, get kids to school and knock down absenteeism. That’s a moneymaker for the districts as well as the right thing to do with kids. Once the kids are in their seats, the school gets funding for them.

Q. What kinds of interventions do you have in mind?

A. I did some of this when I was a teacher in Pacifica High School in the community of West Pittsburg — everything from calling parents to sending someone out. I used to go out to neighborhoods in Bay Point, which was then called West Pittsburg. I would go out and sometimes I interrupted the family’s dinner and I said, ‘I’m your son’s teacher and we have some issues we want to work out.’

Some students are being left at home because they have an elderly grandparent in a wheelchair and no one to watch them. Or, mom says, ‘I don’t have money to pay for day care for 3-year-old sister Sally, you take are of her.’ We sent social workers out and helped find where they could get elderly care or child care.

Some parents need a wake up call from the district. Attorney General Kamala Harris has worked on this — to inform parents not only of their moral, but legal responsibilities.

We also have a model SARB (School Attendance Review Boards) program that deals with kids who are truant and missing school, sharing best practices. So, those are things we’re already doing and could expand on, along with involving parents.

Q. What’s another priority for you?

A. Career Technical Education is a new emphasis. There are nearly 500 Partnership Academies in the state. They link learning in all curriculum areas at high schools to career pathways, to the real world. My department will be issuing requests for grant proposals in January for the new $250 million Career Pathways Trust fund.

I created a Career Readiness Initiative three years ago. It ties into the goals of the new Common Core standards, with relevancy, workplace readiness and 21st Century skills, which employers want. They want team work. They want communication skills. They want critical thinkers and problem-solvers.”

What do you think the state should do to cut down on absenteeism and prepare students for the workforce?

Posted on Friday, December 20th, 2013
Under: Bay Point, California, Education, Pittsburg, Tom Torlakson | 13 Comments »