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Superintendent of Public Instruction: Addressing needs of educational system

Cynthia E. Griffin | 5/29/2014, midnight

The Superintendent of Public Instruction is responsible for carrying out the rules set by the state Board of Education, as well as those dictated by the education code. The person holding this office is responsible for both public and private schools. The individual also acts as the state’s representative at the federal level, and is charged with addressing the financial and academic needs of students, schools and school districts.

The three candidates seeking this slot represent the multiple faces of contemporary education.

Incumbent Tom Torlakson is a veteran politician and a second-generation public school teacher (science) seeking a second term in office.

During his first stint in the office, he led the charge to put decision-making about how to spend education dollars back into the hands of local parents, teachers, and community leaders and to upgrade public education so that all youngsters can obtain a world-class education.

The San Francisco-born former state legislator touts, among his accomplishments, legislation he wrote that led to the development of the nation’s largest system of after-school programs, which now reaches 4,000 schools throughout California.

Torlakson has also helped expand workplace internship and career-training programs believing students need a taste of the working world before they graduate, and that all young people should leave school with skills that help them succeed in the real world of careers and college.

Lydia Gutierrez is a 25-year veteran educator who believes that the Common Core State Standards are not scientifically-based professional educational standards but “a theory licensed product that has been marketed as standards.”

She also opposes high-stakes federal government testing mandates, but believes that music, art, literature and vocational trade skills should come back to the classroom.

Gutierrez said her administration will insure that the infrastructure of all schools is sound and that needed repairs and proper support staffing, including a librarian in every school, are a priority.

A native of the Harbor Gateway area in Los Angeles County, Gutierrez is the ninth of 10 children and was raised by parents of modest means who instilled in her the need to place a high value on dignity and respect.

Marshall Tuck calls himself the only candidate in the race with a proven record of increasing graduation rates, improving student achievement and turning around failing schools. He did this while working as the founding CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools created by former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Among his accomplishments in this role were increasing the four-year graduation rate at the 17 schools in the Partnership by 60 percent, improving student attendance and launching the innovative Parent College. This program became a national model for getting parents involved in their children’s education.

Prior to his involvement with Villaraigosa, Tuck, the son of a teacher and graduate of UCLA and Harvard Business School, was president of Green Dot Public Schools. He helped expand this charter school organization grow from one to 10 campuses within four years.

Tuck said he will be an independent advocate for parents and students who will cut what he describes as the “education bureaucracy” and wasteful programs. He also wants to give parents more control over local schools and a bigger role in their children’s education. He intends to insure that effective teachers and principals are in schools that have a college and career-ready curriculum.