Candidates for Modesto City Schools short term offer diverse views

naustin@modbee.comOctober 25, 2013 

    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin

— Candidates for the two-year Modesto City Schools board seat offer voters a distinct choice of youthful enthusiasm, sage experience and a skeptical newcomer.

Four candidates will be on the ballot for a single, short-term seat created by a resignation: E.&J. Gallo Winery marketing specialist Jordan Dickson, 23; sheriff’s Lt. Charlie Grom, 50; and Community Services Agency specialist and Modesto Junior College student Dean Smeltzer, 24. Fabiola Garcia also filed as a candidate, but did not respond to Bee requests for information.

The three candidates who responded said reducing the dropout rate is a high priority. Dickson said lower class sizes are key to raising achievement and keeping kids on track. Grom would like to see more after-school help and greater parent involvement, to improve student safety and school outcomes. Smeltzer said he wants to work with the community, teachers and administrators to find solutions.

Courses with a career focus got three thumbs up. Grom would like to see the trades needed locally reflected in vocational courses. Smeltzer said he wants students to have a wider range of educational and technical programs. Dickson would like to build on community partnerships to offer more ways for teens to connect school with skills.

On other topics, the candidates’ views split widely.

Incoming Common Core state standards, one of two seismic shifts hitting education, are viewed favorably by Grom and Dickson. Smeltzer, however, said he is adamantly opposed. “Common core severely limits our teachers’ creativity and potential and puts too much emphasis on test-taking strategies instead of curriculum,” he said via email.

Dickson, by contrast, said he was a fan. “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you have to analyze it, think about the problem in a different way,” he said.

Grom said he sees it working in his kids’ classes. He has three children in Modesto City Schools. Dickson has no children. Smeltzer has a toddler.

The other major change for education is in how it is funded, with more money coming for school districts such as Modesto City Schools that are serving large numbers of poor children and English learners. The funding also requires greater community participation in spending decisions.

Dickson said he wants to see budget forecasting that looks three, five and 10 years down the road. “We need to be planting the seeds right now to help provide resources then,” he said. Technology such as podcasts and social media offer better ways to connect with parents and students, and to provide easy access to district information in multiple languages. “We need to bring it to them,” Dickson said.

Grom has developed budgets and worked with negotiations as an administrator in the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department through the recession. “We had to do the job with less, and those were very difficult discussions to have,” he said. He said he wants to bring more community members to the table. “The board’s going to have to be engaged and be receptive to what the community is looking for,” he said.

Smeltzer said he would like to see the district put some of its reserves into use in the classroom. “I would be afraid the state would take our excess reserve if left unused,” he said. He wants greater board transparency and would use social media and community roundtables to gather public input.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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