With the Nov. 3 election less than three months away, local races are heating up as candidates step forward to govern the area’s school districts.
The election will feature races for Turlock Unified School District Areas 1, 3, 5 and 7 and Turlock’s portion of the Yosemite Community College District, Area 3.
All four incumbents on the TUSD Board of Trustees are either running for reelection or to be elected for the first time after being appointed. In Area 1, Trustee Miranda Chalabi is seeking election after being appointed to the Board in June of last year. So far, she has two challengers: Turlock Black Lives Matter movement co-founder Jaimee Ellison and Patterson Joint Unified School District Alternative Education Principal Jose Sanchez.
“I’m seeking election because I have so much that I still want to accomplish,” Chalabi said.
She graduated from Turlock High School in 2003 and currently works for Stanislaus County in Behavior Health Recovery Services as a data and outcomes project coordinator.
“I care about the future of all students and I want to be a voice for those students the system has failed. I want to be the voice of our teachers, parents and community. To do that I will work to understand many perspectives and be a fair representative that balances them all. As a parent of two young TUSD students and a long-time community member, I am committed to the success of TUSD,” she said.
Sanchez is an administrator for both Del Puerto High School and Open Valley School, an independent study school. He’s held the position for five years and was previously the principal of Apricot Valley Elementary School for nine years. He has also taught at the elementary school level and is an alum of three California State Universities: Fresno, Monterey Bay and Stanislaus State. In Turlock, he has been involved with Little League and Turlock Youth Football.
Sanchez was inspired to run for a Trustee seat after seeing TUSD’s growth over the years as his children attended its schools.
“I am confident that my administrative career and volunteer opportunities will allow me to make educational and administrative decisions while supporting all stakeholders, most importantly our children. My community volunteer experiences will allow me to be a voice between the school districts and our students and families. I have a high level of interest in preserving the educational programs the Turlock school system has implemented while continuing to be innovative and improving opportunities for all students,” Sanchez said. “It is important to understand that education is constantly changing through legislation and student needs; we need to be part of the growing culture in our schools.”
If elected, Sanchez hopes to address mental health support and college/career preparedness.
“In my current position, I have the opportunity to speak with former students who have graduated and share their challenges they face when seeking advice at the postsecondary level. It is important to continue and establish a support system for students seeking assistance after graduation.”
Ellison is a first-timer on the ballot, choosing to take the plunge into public service through the school Board so that the group of Trustees has a youthful voice, she said.
“In high school I wasn’t the best student and it’s partly my fault, but now I see that there is so much potential within the school district to help students who aren’t getting the extra attention that they need,” Ellison said. “There are programs in place that are good but they can be better. Being as young as I am and having literally gone through the school system just a few years ago, I can see it and see where we might need a younger mind with new ideas. I want to give the students a youthful voice and help them get whatever they may need and more.”
A Pitman High School alumna, former member of the Army National Guard and a double-major graduate of Stanislaus State, Ellison hopes she can bring some diversity to the Board and also help the district focus on mental health.
“I think I can bring that perspective of what it’s like being a person of color and going through the TUSD system. I’m not saying it’s bad, but there are a lot of external struggles we face that aren’t really recognized until we get older,” Ellison said. “Looking back on my school years now, it’s something I’d like to address and bring to light so that hopefully, moving forward, there are more programs put in place not only for students who are low-income, but specifically minorities and people of color.”
Trustee Ken Malech of Area 3 is seeking reelection after being elected to the Board in 2015 and as of Friday’s filing period deadline, no one had pulled papers to run against him.
There are several accomplishments achieved by the Board during his tenure so far that he looks back on proudly, he said, like the technology and other academic resources provided to students, additional books in TK classrooms, professional development opportunities for staff and additions to the TUSD farm. The passage of Bond Measures N and O are another highlight, he added.
“Although so much has been accomplished, I feel there is more work to do for the community of Turlock. If the people of Turlock will have me, I plan on running and hopefully being reelected to serve four additional years on the TUSD board,” Malech said. “In light of the COVID-19 crisis, I want to take this opportunity to ask the community of Turlock to write, call and email their state and federal representatives to continue fully funding education so we can move forward together. I really believe your voice counts and your children and grandchildren deserve it.”
Longtime Trustee Frank Lima of Area 5 is also running for reelection and was originally elected to the Board in 2001. He said his attitude and commitment to public education has not changed over the past 19 years — a big part of the reason why he decided to run again this year even though he had previously decided to step down. The coronavirus pandemic inspired him to serve another term, he said.
“Until the COVID-19 crisis, I looked forward to addressing the Turlock High School 2020 graduates at their commencement and soon thereafter resigning or not submitting my candidacy for another term. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, I believe TUSD, like other public school districts, will have a number of difficult and unpopular decisions to make, beginning with the opening of school for the 2020-21 school year,” Lima said. “I am willing to serve to address the concerns of our community and all TUSD stakeholders, and ultimately, support the administration during this difficult time for our students, staff and community.”
According to Stanislaus County’s candidate list, Parent Teacher Association Secretary and parent Daniel Benedict has filed to run against Lima, but was unable to be reached for comment by the time of publication.
Area 7 Trustee Anthony Silva, a former high school teacher, is running unopposed and said the last five years on the Board have been a “learning period.”
“We have a great District and Board. Hopefully, I will be able to do my part to meet the challenges we face,” he said. “Having been in education for over 50 years, I will try to bring that perspective.”
In the race for YCCD’s Board of Trustees, a familiar Turlock face is running for Area 3. Milton Richards, retired Stanislaus State Athletic Director and husband to Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak, said he was inspired to run from a desire to continue his service to higher education.
“My goal as a YCCD Trustee will be to work with fellow trustees, our chancellor, faculty, students, taxpayers and residents to provide affordable opportunities allowing students to transfer to a four-year college, pursue vocational careers not requiring a full four-year degree or otherwise improve their lives,” Richards said. “I will also use my previous experience as a CSU Stanislaus administrator to make it easier for YCCD students to continue their education at CSU Stanislaus.”
In addition to his time at Stanislaus State, Richards has also served in roles such as adjunct professor for Temple University Pennsylvania, United Way of Stanislaus County Board member, former Chairperson of Turlock Convention and Visitors Bureau and holds a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree from West Virginia University.
Longtime YCCD Trustee Abe Rojas has decided not to seek reelection after 25 years on the Board. Combined with his prior 13 years on the original Turlock High School Board, he said his time as a school Trustee has been the highlight of his career. He has imparted his wisdom onto Richards, who is running unopposed.
“I am extremely thankful and grateful to the residents of Area 3 for their loyal support. I have tried my best to serve with integrity, ethically and trust, in assisting to providing an environment for students to achieve their endeavors,” Rojas said. “My future goal is to stay active in community activities, athletic officiating and jogging!”
“It’s an honor to have Abe’s trust and endorsement,” Richards said.