California Educator

September 2015

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E ast Bay voters in Assembly District 15 elected Tony Thurmond (D-Rich- m o n d ) i n N o v e m b e r 2 0 1 4 . H e i s a graduate and former student body president of Temple University. He earned M.A. degrees in law and social policy at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. Prior to his election to the Assembly, he led the CEO Youth project, which worked to improve school attendance and reduce dropout rates. In addition to serving as a nonprofit leader, he has been a school board member and city council member. What did you do before becoming a lawmaker? For more than 20 years, I ran programs focused on serving foster youth and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds and individuals with developmental dis- abilities. The programs worked to improve education and economic viability in communities serving low-income people and people of color. As a council member in Richmond I focused on efforts to reduce com- munity violence, expand job programs for youth and training programs for adults, and promote economic development. As a school board member for the West Contra Costa Unified School District, I launched a districtwide youth commission and led the district's campaign to reduce school suspen- sions, which resulted in a nearly 30 percent reduction in suspensions. What led you to run for office? My social work career helped me see that many of those in our social services systems are often denied a quality education and are largely negatively impacted by poverty, sub- stance issues, violence and disinvestment. I learned early on that one of the best ways to serve people in need is to change the systems that im- pact those individuals, and thus my desire to serve in elected office arose. Which teachers had the greatest impact on you? Thanks to teachers, mentors and family members, I overcame many barriers as a youth — loss of a parent, poverty, etc. My high school algebra teacher helped me work through my difficulties in learning math. She was patient and never gave up on me. My sixth-grade teacher conducted math and science relays to make learning interesting, and got the entire classroom involved in an activity that is critically import- ant to legislators — public speaking. I would also like to thank my fifth- grade teacher, who every Friday afternoon pushed the desks against the wall and taught a bunch of his students how to dance. He created a fun learning opportunity that helped us explore social development in a safe, structured and supervised environment. What steps should the Legislature take to help schools suc- ceed? The Legislature needs first and foremost to provide increased and stable funding sources. Providing the highest-quality education for students should be our top priority, and we should show we value public education by providing more resources for it. We should also improve com- pensation for those who teach, and we should provide all teachers access to the best professional development and training available. What are your goals for public education? My goals are to reduce rates of chronic student absenteeism, to close the achievement gap, and to ensure that every student graduates from high school with the skills needed to go on to college or some other form of postsecond- ary education. What advice would you give educators about working with the legislators? Teachers should invite legislators to visit their class- rooms to see firsthand the needs of students and teachers. For the last few years I have enjoyed being a volunteer reader at Read Across America Day in the first-grade classroom of Mr. Robert Ellis at Washington Elemen- tary School in Richmond. Building strong, lasting relationships with legisla- tors is extremely important. A healthy relationship with educators will help legislators develop comprehensive and effective legislation. By Len Feldman Tony Thurmond MEET ASSEMBLY MEMBER 38 Advocacy

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