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Changnon’s legacy defined by taking initiative
tom changnon
Outgoing Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon shares with the Turlock City Council the state of education in the area (Photo contributed).

Outgoing Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon shared with the Turlock City Council early this month the state of education in our area, celebrating a multitude of accomplishments during his 12 years as an education leader in which he positively impacted local schools.


Changnon, who will retire when Superintendent-elect Scott Kuykendall takes over, was sworn into office on Jan. 9, 2007 as the overseer of 25 school districts, including 190 schools and over 106,920 students. Mayor Gary Soiseth spoke about some of Changnon’s prior accomplishments at the Nov. 13 City Council meeting and wished him well in retirement.


“I know you don’t brag about yourself, so as mayor I’m going to do that for you,” Soiseth said.


Changnon is a graduate of Stanford University, and upon completing his education there he was drafted by the Houston Astros professional baseball organization where he played minor league ball for two years. He was then led to a career in education and began teaching in 1975 at Fremont High School, eventually moving to the Central Valley to begin teaching Economics, Government, American History and Special Education classes at Beyer High School in Modesto.


Changnon soon after entered the field of administration, holding positions as Assistant Principal, Principal and Assistant Superintendent.


After over a decade of work as Superintendent, things are going well as far as education goes in Stanislaus County, Changnon said, and he spoke about the need for classrooms to adapt to a growing number of English learners as well as incorporating a “balance” of technology into the classroom.


Changnon also mentioned four county-wide initiatives brought forward and implemented during his time as Superintendent, including Every Day Counts. Every school district in the county participated, he said, and a total of over $3 million in funding was received from the State for various districts as a result of increased attendance.


Changnon signed the county up for then-Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Fit for the Future program, and in both 2008 and 2009 Stanislaus County was the physically fit County of the Year for the entire state. Three different schools received $100,000 gyms as a result of the program while others received additional monetary awards.


Choose Civility was another initiative that flourished with Changnon’s guidance, and came at a time when school board meetings were becoming more contentious as cuts were made during the Great Recession. The campaign encouraged kindness and during its implementation, students, faculty and staff throughout the county could be seen wearing shirts emblazoned with the initiative’s name.


“Many people have told me, ‘Tom, we need to bring Choose Civility back again,’ and sadly it could be true,” Changnon said.


The most successful of Changnon’s initiatives may be Destination Graduation, which since its induction in 2012 has increased Stanislaus County’s graduation rate over five percent.


“We’ve moved the needle and we are above the state average for graduation rates right now,” Changnon said.


Looking ahead to the future, Changnon shared that the concern on a majority of the world’s mind is whether or not their children will be able to find a job that can support them. Stanislaus County is doing everything it can to ensure that students will find employment and become successful, he said.


The Stanislaus County Office of Education recently moved into a larger building on H Street in Modesto (the former Modesto Bee building) and now houses the VOLT Institute, which trains participants for trade jobs, as well as the Comeback Kids program, which gives adults who dropped out of high school a second chance to earn their diploma.


As Changnon was honored in Turlock on Nov. 13, the Stanislaus County board of Education simultaneously met and unanimously decided to name the new SCOE location the Tom Changnon Education Center. A request for community input in October saw SCOE receive 61 nominations — 40 of which were for Changnon.


At the new Tom Changnon Education Center, 800 students have graduated from the Comeback Kids program. VOLT recently graduated its first class; 30 students completed the industrial maintenance mechanics course and 90 percent of those graduates were immediately placed in a job in their field.


“You want to become an electrician, you want to become a carpenter, cement layer — you name it we, got it back there in the back of that building and we can get you trained up,” Changnon said.


What’s next for SCOE? A new initiative is in the works according to the Superintendent, which will roll out in the spring and focus on taking residents from the “Cradle to Career.”


“The whole idea is to take young people from birth all the way through to a career, help them find their purpose in life and make sure we don’t have young people slipping through the cracks,” he said.


While initiatives past, present and future have earned different school districts praise and recognition, Changnon made sure the teachers in Stanislaus County didn’t go unnoticed during the City Council meeting.


“Education, as you know, is the fundamental foundation for people to achieve the American Dream,” Changnon said. “We’ve had initiatives...and I’m very proud of that, but most importantly I’m proud of the dedication of all the educators in our county, of all the 25 school districts, the teachers and the paraeducators.


“Everyone is really dedicated and it warms my heart. That’s certainly one of the things I will miss the most.”