Atwater man teaches school, heads teachers’ union and serves on college board

07/07/2014 5:48 PM

07/07/2014 9:07 PM

Gary Arzamendi of Atwater concedes his plate of daily activities is more than full, but that’s fine. It means he’s helping other people and organizations he wholeheartedly supports.

Arzamendi is a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Merced’s Joe Stefani School. Last month, he became president of the Merced City Teachers Association. And he has been a member of the Merced College Board of Trustees for about two years.

“I’ve always had a full plate,” Arzamendi said. “I’m used to it. I just stay focused on helping people.”

Arzamendi succeeded Dora Crane as MCTA president. She’s also no stranger to the triple-duty regimen. Crane is a teacher in the Merced City School District, led the 470-member teachers group for several years and is a member of the Merced Union High School District Board of Trustees.

“I’m sure he’s up to the challenge,” Crane said. “Gary’s going to be a wonderful president. It’s not new to him; he’s been active in the union and hit the ground running.”

Teaching always has been important in Arzamendi’s family. His father, Fred Arzamendi Sr., retired from Merced College after 40 years’ teaching; mom Delores also taught for 40 years, retiring from Franklin Elementary School. Of his five siblings, three are teachers.

Arzamendi’s brother, Fred Arzamendi Jr., teaches science at Cruickshank Middle School. Karen Johnson is a kindergarten teacher at Alicia Reyes School in Merced, and Rita Walsh is a kindergarten teacher at Peterson School.

Arzamendi’s smartphone has a calendar that keeps him informed of meetings, events and other commitments. If there’s nothing on the books, he’s involved with activities as a deacon at Central Presbyterian Church with his wife of 25 years, Laurie Arzamendi. The Arzamendis have three grown children.

“It’s a lot, but it’s second nature doing all these things,” Arzamendi said. “This community invested in me, and I have no problem investing myself in students and teachers.”

RoseMary Parga Duran, Merced City School District superintendent, said she is impressed with Arzamendi and his positive demeanor.

“I’m looking forward to his leadership,” Duran said. “We have the same interests in mind, and we have had great relationships so far. He seems open and eager to meet to discuss what’s in store this year.”

Arzamendi said he is a firm believer in teamwork and collaboration. The MCTA Executive Board meets once a month, and he estimates he spends about a dozen hours a week on association business, including meeting with representatives from each school.

College trustees also meet once a month on average, and Azarmendi gives considerable study to board materials in the evenings. As a college trustee, he also is a member of the Merced County School Boards Association, which meets quarterly.

Arzamendi said there’s no conflict between his involvement in education at the K-12 education and junior college levels because the challenges are different.

He got his associate degree in liberal studies from Merced College, and a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock. He has a master’s degree in educational leadership from California State University, Fresno.

Arzamendi began teaching 20 years ago at R.M. Miano Elementary School in Los Banos. Then he taught at Gracey Elementary School in Merced for 11 years, followed by a year at Cruickshank. He moved to Stefani when the school opened eight years ago. He also was a summer school principal in 2004 at Gracey.

For several years, Arzamendi also taught liberal studies classes in the evening at Merced College.

Before his educational career, Arzamendi worked for Cask ’n Cleaver Corp. for five years, becoming manager of the Merced, Modesto and Visalia restaurants. He also worked as the Christian education pastor for four years at Merced’s Christian Life Center.

Susan Walsh, Merced College’s learning resources director and a member of the Merced City School District Board of Education, said a wonderful thing about Merced is the opportunity to do so many things. She cited Crane’s accomplishments along with those of Dave Olsen, who was a college teacher, president of the teachers union at the college and a member of the high school board.

“Gary’s extraordinary,” Walsh said. “He has a giving heart. People in education tend to be very dedicated.”

During his early educational training, Arzamendi got involved in several student work programs as a teacher’s aide and gravitated to teaching the lower grades, traditionally the bastion of female teachers.

Arzamendi soon discovered added satisfaction helping elementary students learn and said he felt it was necessary to have male role models in primary grade classrooms, where a father figure often is lacking.

“I call it serving. I love serving people and helping them. I’m wired that way,” Arzamendi said.

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