Election 2022: Questions and Answers with George Yang, California Superintendent of Public Instruction | Wender Mind Kids

Election 2022: Questions and Answers with George Yang, California Superintendent of Public Instruction

There are seven candidates for California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction in the June 7 election. Incumbent Tony Thurmond has raised $1.5 million for his re-election campaign, while three challengers have each raised tens of thousands of dollars for theirs. They are teacher/trustee Marco Amaral, education politician Lance Christensen, and software architect/father George Yang. The Editorial Board of the San Diego Union-Tribune sent these four candidates an 11-question poll and is posting their responses here.

If after reading this interview you have any comments or questions about the election or any of the candidates, please email Matthew T. Hall, Editorial and Opinion Director, at matthew.hall@sduniontribune.com.

Below are George Yang’s answers and a link to other answers.

Q: Given your background, what makes you the best candidate for this job?

A: In February 2020 I was part of a medical mission to Togo, West Africa. I was the only engineer, systems architect to be precise, in the midst of a team of doctors and nurses. So what was I doing there? At the beginning of COVID-19, a doctor from our team offered a hand washing course: 30 seconds of washing with a good lather. While he was teaching I spoke to some local participants and found that they did not have continuous running water. To solve the problem fundamentally, I started working with engineers to build a system in which the water used to wash hands can be disinfected and reused for washing. Another doctor noticed many cases of dysentery and recommended boiling water. Speaking to the villagers, I found that firewood was scarce and they could not afford to boil water. To change that, I bought and tested an energy-efficient wood-burning stove that could use excess heat from cooking to boil water. The third doctor was a physical therapist and she noticed that the local girls carried heavy objects on their heads, which put strain on their necks and backs. She offered an excellent course on relaxing the neck and back muscles. I, on the other hand, began working with engineers on an A-frame cradle that would help distribute the load.

I’m an observant engineer with an eye for problem solving. Sometimes bureaucracies need new perspectives and solutions. And I will bring that perspective.

Q: Tony Thurmond has been criticized for not playing a more central role during the pandemic. How would you have led it? What would you have done differently?

A: California is a large state and every school district is different. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would have worked with the staff to outline several options i.e. for urban, suburban and rural schools. Each school district could then choose the path that best suits its situation. For each of these options, the state could offer a combination of technical support and financial resources, as well as policies to protect student privacy and ensure accountability. In addition, the state would provide adequate support to meet the needs of low-income children and children with single parents.

Q: Awareness of California’s ongoing underachievement gap and concerns about the mental health of students and teachers have increased during the pandemic. What would you specifically do about it?

A: Teacher mental health is very important to both their effective teaching and teacher retention. We should provide some guidance for local districts to partner with local non-profit organizations, including religious institutions such as churches and temples, to provide private and personal counseling. Teachers sometimes need someone to talk to. At the state level, we could create a volunteer network of experienced teachers, retired teachers, and mental health professionals, and provide a hotline for teachers who may need to speak to someone who understands their needs.

Q: California is facing a teacher shortage that has gotten worse during the pandemic. What is your specific plan to address this?

A: We need to encourage more people in commerce and industry to become part-time and full-time teachers. For example, current and retired accountants might make good math teachers. We need to create accelerated accreditation procedures for people with practical experience who want to become teachers or teach part-time.

Q: The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), approved in 2013, was intended to provide funds to directly help English learners, foster children and students from poor families. Some say funds have been diverted to other uses. What would you do on this issue if elected?

A: The LCFF approved in 2013 was a step in the right direction to encourage more local control. The recent trend of Sacramento trying again to micromanage the use of funds goes against my principle of local control. If elected I would follow the LCFF more closely as it was approved back in 2013. Also, I would create more opportunities for more parents to participate in overseeing the funds allocated to local districts. I would look for ways parents could help, perhaps in the form of parent oversight committees, to provide feedback and input on how LCFF funds are being used and what projects should be funded in this way.

Q: Enrollment in state public schools is declining. How are California school districts adapting? Should systemic school closures and layoffs be considered? What role do charter schools or alternative education play?

A: I support charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling in a holistic system that focuses on the needs of the child, not the system. The priority of the education system should be the needs of individual students. On the other hand, local schools can be the mystical tendons that bind together a community’s past, present, and future. And I will work with local school districts and parents to make local schools more innovative and responsive to changing needs.

Q: Part of the drop in enrollment is because the public school system is simply losing its appeal to those with other options. How would you seek to improve the desirability and effectiveness of California public schools?

A: Local control and local flexibility are the keys for local community schools to strive for improvement and provide better service to local parents and children. I will devote my time to working with each local school district to find local solutions to the specific problems they face.

Q: There is a new debate about student assessment and grades. What is your philosophy on student achievement and what is the best way for the state to determine if students are ready to graduate?

A: In 1996, at the young age of 51, my mother passed several tests to become a Microsoft Certified Engineer and got a job as a systems administrator for a manufacturing company in Redwood City. Without standardized testing, should we return to societies where the only way to get jobs is who you know? Standardized tests should not alone determine a child’s future. But we need standards so that we can fairly measure and compare schools’ performance on key performance indicators.

Q: What should the relationship between schools and law enforcement look like?

A: Local law enforcement and local schools both respond to local citizenship electing them. Nobody is perfect. I encourage locally elected sheriffs and district attorneys, as well as local school board trustees, to work closely together to develop best practices that meet local needs. As Superintendent of Public Instruction, I would commend and highlight local communities that are thriving and encourage others to learn from their success.

Q: Apart from the ones you discussed above, what would be another top priority for you?

A: I’m using new technology to provide a personalized education for each student and will build a nationwide, Yelp-like platform where all students can easily select afterschool programs in their neighborhood that meet their unique needs. The platform will provide unbiased reviews and key performance indicators on all available programs. Such a public platform will not promote some programs because of the need for paid advertising. I will be building another platform where California schools with innovative projects can post those projects and their funding needs online to solicit funds from individual donors, nonprofits, and foundations. The state can allocate appropriate funds to encourage online donations to such worthy causes.

Q: Why should voters choose you over your opponents?

A: If you want less Sacramento control and more local control, if you want more innovation, if you want more solutions, then George Yang is your choice for state superintendent of public education.