Roughly two decades after walking the stage at Cabrillo High School, Vandenberg Village native Adam Anderson headed back to school to ask for the public's help — and their vote.
At 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the 36-year-old education consultant and former Chicago school administrator was expected to take the stage at Vandenberg Middle School — his father Howard, a retired senior master sergeant, is a math teacher there — and kick off his campaign for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
"This is my life's work — it's my passion," Anderson said Friday. "I would be incredibly honored to serve the 6.2 million students who go to [California's public schools.]"
A product of the state's public school system, Anderson began his education as a student at Crestview Elementary before continuing at Vandenberg Middle School and Cabrillo High School.
"It was an opportunity to get a great education in a really supportive environment," he said of his time in Lompoc Unified schools. "I can think about [all my] teachers who cared about the classroom education we were receiving ... and having a supportive, safe and caring environment."
Anderson credits his experience at Lompoc's public schools (and as a player on Cabrillo's baseball team) with providing him with a strong foundation. He completed his undergraduate studies at California State University, Long Beach, where he majored in chemical engineering on a full-ride academic scholarship.
"I didn't have to worry as much [as other students] about the cost of higher education and obtaining a college degree," he said. "LUSD [provided me with] the academic and leadership foundation I needed to go on and be successful."
He pursued a short career as an engineer with Honeywell Aerospace in Torrance before returning to school for a master’s in education and an M.B.A from Stanford University. Anderson, a "proud alumnus and benefactor" of public schools, credits his Stanford education with enabling him to pursue his passion of advocating for and improving California's public school system.
"I did that joint degree knowing that I would ultimately want to work in public education," he said. "I want to serve the students [that are] in the classrooms I grew up in."
Anderson points to an administrative career at Chicago Public Schools, Chicago's largest public school system, and work with San Francisco-based EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit which works to improve internet access in public schools, as experience that has prepared him to undertake the role of superintendent of public instruction.
"I've learned firsthand how to collaborate and how to build relationships with people who have different perspectives, viewpoints and priorities in the complex public school system," he explained. "[I've learned] how to set a clear vision and clear direction to bring [ideas] to life."
During his tenure at Chicago Public Schools, Anderson led the development and implementation of a multi-year improvement strategy for approximately 500 school sites. His efforts focused primarily on improving accountability, attendance and K-2 literacy while working with principals and teachers to prepare common core professional development material.
"Bringing about innovate, transformative change in a system comparable to the California Department of Education," Anderson said, has prepared him for the challenges of his office.
He described his platform as promoting "future-readiness" for all public school students, not just those seeking to pursue a higher education. While he recognizes the importance of addressing the achievement gap and improving the core curriculum, Anderson said equal importance should be placed on preparing students integrate into the workforce.
"We all need to be a bit more aware of what [future-ready] means," he said. "Whether they're heading into college or a career, students need to be able to solve undefined problems and think critically to not just succeed in school, but also the future workforce."
As a candidate, Anderson says he would continue the California Department of Education's practice of allowing Local Educational Agencies to make decisions that meet the needs of their communities.
"The state needs to help county education offices meet the needs of their districts," Anderson explained. "It's important that we continue to give local school districts and communities the autonomy and empowerment they need to prepare their students for the future."
Though he praised the Local Control Funding Formula, Gov. Brown's landmark school finance proposal, for improving district autonomy, Anderson said a degree of oversight and transparency are needed to ensure funds are being used in a responsible manner.
"We need to make sure that dollars are going to the students that need them the most, but more transparency [is needed,]" he said. "Are the dollars ending up where they're supposed to? The state needs to support local districts to [ensure they are] using dollars effectively for all students."
A nonpartisan position, Superintendent of Public Instruction oversees the California Department of Education and implements policies set by the state Board of Education. Though the superintendent of public instruction has little authority to unilaterally affect education policy, for some the power of the pulpit remains an enticing draw — especially during the heightened debate surrounding charter school authorization.
Weighing in on the issue, Anderson said the authority to authorize a charter should rest with the local educational agency, though he recognizes the good charter schools may contribute to a local community.
"There are examples across the state and country where charter schools serve an important role — either through innovation or to meet the needs of the community," he said. "I will prioritize what we need to do to support students, but local districts should establish charters when it makes sense for community."
Anderson, who filed to run last month, has never run for public office. He joins a crowded field of candidates, including assemblyman Tony Thurmond and former candidate Marshall Tuck. Tuck narrowly lost to outgoing Superintendent Tom Torlakson in 2014.