The Tulare County League of Women Voters hosted a forum September 27 inviting Tulare County Superintendent of Schools candidates Tim Hire and Craig Wheaton to debate the issues facing our schools.
State Assembly District 26 candidates Devon Mathis and Jose Sigala were also invited and their portion of the forum will be featured in our next issue.
Throughout the one-hour question-and-answer session the two candidates agreed on issues concerning classroom size, enhancing the arts, charter schools, school safety and vocational education. They both also have limited teaching experience and lean more towards the administration side of education.
Management Styles and Experience
Where Wheaton and Hire differed was their experience and their management styles.
In Wheaton’s opening statement he outlined the three major differences between himself and his challenger. He said he is a lifelong learner, having earned a doctorate from Pepperdine in Education Leadership.
“I think the superintendant should strive to achieve the highest level of education,” he said.
As the current Deputy Assistant to the Tulare County Superintendent, Wheaton said he already knows the job of superintendent. Lastly, he said that he is a proven leader having run small, medium, and large schools from elementary to continuation high school and entire school districts.
While Superintendent of Visalia Unified School District he said the graduation rates increased from 80% to 95% and that during his reign he built new schools and opened the Vtech Charter School.
Hire underlined the importance of everyone’s voting because there hasn’t been an election for TC Superintendent in 28 years.
He began as an agriculture teacher at Woodlake High School, was promoted to principal, and again promoted to superintendent of the school district. When Hire took over as Superintendent of the Woodlake district he said the recession has just begun. “We did not cut programs for kids and we found ways so our staff stayed whole, that benefits were paid, and that students received a seamless education.”
From there Hire took over the Exeter Union School District (EUSD.) He said as Superintendent of EUSD he raised student achievement over five straight years, especially with the English as a Second Language learners, whose scores jumped 115%.
Hire has been at the helm of EUSD for 12 years.
Hire received his BA in Industrial Technology with an emphasis on management and has a Masters in Agriculture.
When the question of management style was asked Hire said that he prides himself on being approachable. “I’m a people person and alongside that I am not afraid to do the work.” Hire said that during his time at Woodlake School District he would draw names out of a bucket during the welcome back breakfast. Those teachers or staff he drew got four days off and he would do their job.
“That kept me grounded and taught me the challenges that our staff experience every day. My hands-on experience will be an asset to the county.”
He also said that he is the best qualified as an advocate in Sacramento to get state funding for the students and local schools in Tulare County.
“When I talk to our colleagues around the nation I find that we are drastically underfunded.”
Hire said he builds relationships “with outside entities because we need them in education. Building relations with industry partners brings in resources, not just money, but personnel that is extremely important,” he said.
In terms of management style, Wheaton said his most important characteristic is a humbleness to serve and listen. He said his life began on a small family farm and it was those humble beginnings that made him realize that he wanted to serve children.
Wheaton said that listening to what each person has to offer is probably his biggest asset.
“I don’t stand in front of people and tell them what to do. I am very involved, very open, very understanding and I listen to everybody whether they are a custodian or bus driver or teacher or principal. Everyone is important.”
Should TCOE have a relationship with ICE?
One of the more interesting questions of the evening concerned TCOE’s relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.) Both Wheaton and Hire said they cannot think of any instance where TCOE and ICE should work together.
Hire said that the law is clear on the separation of ICE and public education and that the California Attorney General just wrote up policies that will be implemented soon. He said that schools do not ask about immigration status or for social security numbers so schools do not have any information in which ICE would be interested.
Wheaton said that “when it comes to immigration, our kids, no matter who they are, no matter where they come from, or what their documentation is, they need to be able to feel safe and able to come to school.”
He added that immigration is a traumatic issue for many attending Tulare County schools because students don’t know whether their parents will be coming home or not at the end of the day.
28% of the Workforce Leaves School before the 8th Grade
The only question of the evening where disagreement was had between the two candidates was a statement made by the audience. Their question stated that 28% of the workforce in Tulare County leaves school by eighth grade, and they wanted to know how each candidate intended on changing that.
Hire said that an improved relationship between the students and the school is necessary.
“My father was a teacher for 41 years and a great mentor to me…He said remember one thing and this will get you through everything. ‘Kids will not care how much you know until they know how much you care.’
“So if we are going to have an impact on students before they check out by 8th grade,” said Hire, “they need to have a relationship with their teacher, custodian, coach, bus driver, principal, and that will save them.”
Wheaton’s response was quite different. He explained that the workforce is 25-years-old or older, and living in an agriculture economy, that statistic is extremely misleading concerning our education system.
“Our workforce is made up of people who immigrate here from other countries with a very low level of education.” On the other hand, he said the number of kids who enter our school system in kindergarten and then drop out by eighth grade is extremely low.
Wheaton said educators are doing a better job here than in most school districts that have more resources, and that many Tulare County kids come from households where the parents are uneducated. “Our graduation rates are near 90% and we should be proud of that.”
The final question was what the two men would like to see as their legacy if elected.
Hire said that when kids leave the safety net of the Tulare County education system he hopes they have the skills and confidence to go forward and be a success and a positive contributor to our communities.
“I want people to say that Tim Hire put kids first and did everything he could to make sure our kids had the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Wheaton said he hopes that Tulare County will become that beacon of light. “Our futures are dependent on raising levels of achievement if we are to keep up with the state, nation and the world, and that we have the ability to do that as educators.”
“I want to reach out to all of them no matter their skill or interest level and inspire that passionate quality in life where they go out and do things and become contributors,” said Wheaton.