Her voice swelling with hometown pride, elementary school teacher Melinda Dart says, “Tom Torlakson was a student in our Daly City schools — and he went on to become a teacher and state superintendent of all schools.”

During his early years, Torlakson’s mother worked as a school secretary and his father as a welder. After high school, Torlakson attended San Mateo Community College before entering the Merchant Marine and serving in Vietnam. Upon his return, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history, a master’s degree in education and a teaching credential at UC Berkeley.

After a successful career as a teacher, Torlakson took his classroom experience to Sacramento where, as a state legislator, he provided a much-needed teacher voice in the Capitol. He played an important role in negotiating a statewide education facilities bond, passed by voters in 1998 as Proposition 1A.

These professional and personal experiences built the foundation for Torlakson’s inclusive and collaborative leadership style that embraces all members of the education community.

Based on his solid credentials, California voters elected Torlakson the Superintendent of Public Instruction four years ago. As the state’s top educator, he has continued to work collaboratively with stakeholders to improve educational outcomes. Torlakson also stayed in touch with the classroom, faculty, staff and students, by teaching part-time at Los Medanos College.

Early on, Torlakson recognized that years of budget cuts leading to layoffs and reduced programs had hurt students. To address the funding crisis, he joined with the CFT and Gov. Brown in support of Proposition 30 to increase funds for schools and colleges.

“Torlakson has used his classroom experience to make schools safer and help more students graduate with real world.” —Melinda Dart

Torlakson has shown the courage to oppose trendy ideas lacking educational merit. He supported a federal waiver for the state under Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top, and sided with the faculty and the students against the arbitrary accreditation agency in the struggle to keep City College of San Francisco open.

More recently, Torlakson spoke out against the court’s misguided ruling in the Vergara v. California case that seeks to end teacher due process and seniority rights. He has publicly criticized the simplistic attacks on educators.

“We do not fault doctors when emergency rooms are full. We do not criticize the firefighters whose supply of water runs dry,” Torlakson says. “Yet while we crowd our classrooms and fail to properly equip them, those who filed and support Vergara shamelessly seek to blame teachers who step forward every day to make a difference.”

Torlakson’s opponent in this race — charter school CEO Marshall Tuck — could not be more different in background and outlook. Tuck started on Wall Street. He has no teaching credential and no classroom experience. When offered the opportunity to support putting more resources into the classroom, he did not take a position on Proposition 30.

Instead, Tuck has scapegoated educators. He supports the Vergara ruling and criticized Torlakson and Gov. Brown for appealing the verdict.

For educators like Melinda Dart, the choice is clear.

“Torlakson has used his classroom experience to make schools safer and help more students graduate with real world skills,” Dart concludes. “And he has put more decision-making about education dollars in the hands of parents, teachers and our communities.” 

— By Kenneth Burt, CFT Political Director