The 2018 midterm election this November will mark the end of an era for Stanislaus County's current Superintendent of Schools, and the race for who will replace him is heating up.
So far, three candidates have tossed their hats into the ring to replace County Superintendent Tom Changnon, who announced Thursday that he would not be seeking reelection. Gratton School District Superintendent Shannon Sanford, Waterford Unified School District Superintendent Don Davis and Stanislaus County Office of Education Assistant Superintendent Scott Kuykendall have all begun campaigning for the county's votes come fall.
In a letter addressed to the Stanislaus County community, Changnon said that while he will miss the job of presiding over the county's schools, he is looking forward to spending more time with his family. He also endorsed Kuykendall in the letter, who serves as his assistant at the county level.
"My decision not to seek reelection is an opportunity for another person to ‘take over the reins' of this agency and continue to follow the mission and vision of SCOE. I believe Scott Kuykendall is that person," said Changnon, who hired Kuykendall seven years ago.
Kuykendall began his 23-year career in education as a Spanish and English teacher at Gustine High School, and after teaching for five years moved into administration. Since then, he has served as principal at Johansen High School and as the director of secondary education for Modesto City Schools. He also oversaw career technical education programs in the district, including FFA.
At SCOE, Kuykendall oversees schools including the Stanislaus Military Academy, Valley Charter High School and Come Back Kids, and is also responsible for the culinary arts program in Oakdale, the SCOE Preventions Department, YES Co. and the county Student Attendance Review Board.
Kuykendall states on his website that he is a strong supporter of two-way immersion programs, which two of his sons have benefited from, as well as career technical education, skilled vocational training and academic innovation for students, like the early college program at Valley Charter High or online learning.
The current Assistant Superintendent also has a passion for working with underserved students, he says.
"I have always enjoyed teaching and working with students to help them overcome barriers to success. I have been privileged to support and celebrate the success of students who come from homes where English is not their first language, students who are teen mothers and students who've struggled academically," says Kuykendall. "I work with our most at-risk and vulnerable populations that include incarcerated youth, foster youth, homeless students, high school dropouts, and students who have been victims of human trafficking."
Sanford, who is currently the longest-serving school district superintendent in the county, is excited to bring the success achieved at Gratton School District to SCOE if elected. Test scores in the school district consistently score well above both the state and county average, she said, and are among the top scores in the area. In addition, the district has no debt, has never gone out to bond and has a healthy reserve.
"I want to take our success at Gratton and support every district in our county to achieve the same," said Sanford.
A resident of Turlock, Sanford is a 28-year education veteran and spent 16 years as a teacher in the classroom and the past 12 years as GSD Superintendent.
With a wide cross section of supporters, including County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra and Hughson Mayor Jeramy Young, Sanford hopes to focus on ensuring an available, homegrown workforce for the county in the 21st Century through narrowing in on STEM education.
"We must improve coordination among the districts, business community, the general public and our higher education systems. Vocational programs should be tailored to best suit the needs of the marketplace and include a built-in ‘pipelines' to skill certification," said Sanford. "Effective, streamlined articulation between the K-12 system and the college system should allow students a seamless transfer to successfully pursue their educational goals."
Don Davis, who has served as WUSD Superintendent since 2009, also hopes to focus on STEM education in addition to promoting early literacy and developing model instructional programs, if elected. He has spoken at a number of education conferences internationally and across the county on his experience with these initiatives, and this year, Waterford High School was awarded the prestigious California Gold Ribbon Award by the California Department of Education as a result of those efforts.
"There has never been a more critical time for public education. As more and more jobs require higher-level skills and training, we need to make sure every student leaves school with the tools they need to be successful in life," said Davis. "Here in Stanislaus County, we have tremendous potential to promote collaboration among our school districts to provide the innovative programs we need to make every student can be successful. As County Superintendent, I will work every day to make sure that happens."
During his career, Davis has been honored as California Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Association of California School Administrators, and was Principal of Waterford High School when it was recognized as a California Distinguished School. He has received a Doctorate in Education and Masters in Education Administration.
The next Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools will be responsible for providing direct instructional programs, support services and regional programs to the county's 25 school districts which serve over 100,000 students. The position is responsible for administering a $235 million budget and over 1,000 staff members.
The 2018 midterm election is scheduled for Nov. 6, 2018.