InterView By Chris Murphy Education for the success and the next generation

Pam Able – Modesto City Schools Superintendent

An educated population makes a city strong and creative. Good jobs need talent and companies look for a talented workforce. To get into a good college, students need to be dedicated and have a school district that has the tools and instruction deliver a top-tier education. Accomplishing this is the goal of Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able.

Pam moved to Modesto in the summer before her freshman year at Davis High. She is one of four children and her dad was a doctor and her mom was a homemaker who later owned a travel agency Pam has a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from St. Mary’s College, Education Administration and Multiple Subject Credentials with CLAD Certification, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of California, Berkeley. (Chris’s Comment: Go Bears!) Pam is married to Jack Able and they have two kids, Michael 21, a student at CSU Stanislaus and Maggie, 30 who is a teacher with her second child on the way.

Pam began her teaching career in the Stanislaus Union School District. She joined Modesto City Schools in 1994. After four years, she moved into site administration, working as a principal at elementary school campuses, and then earned District level positions in Human Resources and Educational Services. The Modesto City Schools Board of Education announced Pam’s selection as the next Superintendent March 29, 2011. She began the new role July 1, 2011. Let’s meet Pam.

ModestoView: My kids are a product of the Modesto public school system that they are doing great. What opportunities do you think kid have as they look forward to a local education?

Pam Able: There are so many opportunities available in Modesto City Schools! I will share two for each school level. Beginning at the elementary level, all sites employ a science-based, research-validated character education and violence prevention curriculum called PeaceBuilders. The program uses six principles, like pledging to right wrongs and help others, to set behavior expectations and reduce aggression for the entire school site. Thanks to a grant from the Stanislaus Community Foundation, PeaceBuilders is in place at all 22 elementary school sites. Two of our elementary sites offer a Dual Language Academy (DLA). Students enrolled in the DLA spend 50% of their day learning in English, and the other 50% learning in Spanish. By 6th grade, students are bilingual and biliterate! At the junior high (and high school) level, students can participate in AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination). AVID is a college readiness system designed to increase learning and performance and close the achievement gap for our English language learners. Also at the junior high level (and throughout the District), music programs! Despite tough budget times, Modesto City Schools continues to provide vocal and instrumental music programs for students. All Modesto City Schools’ high schools offer specialized programs – general education classes combined with specific classes designed to teach students marketable occupational skills, abilities, attitudes and work habits in a wide array of disciplines. Specialized programs include child development, digital media, health, public safety, culinary arts, and many, many more. High schools also offer a variety of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. From clubs to dances to athletics, there is something for everyone!

MV: We keep on hearing that we have an undereducated workforce in our area, what perspective can you offer to that point of view? PA: I believe that Modesto is known for its agriculture, and a majority of the jobs in the area do not require a high level of education. If Modesto can offer jobs that require a higher education level, the workforce will have the appropriate level of education.

MV: It is well known that Modesto has one of the most complicated and diverse populations, when it comes to teaching across our community, what challenges does this offer. PA: Our diverse population challenges staff to look for new ways to reach students every day. Nearly 25% of Modesto City Schools’ students are English learners. There are 40 languages represented in the District. Nine out of 10 English learners are native Spanish speakers. District-wide, 70% of students qualify for the Free/Reduced Lunch program. The number jumps to 85% at the elementary level. How can we expect students to learn if their basic needs are not being met?

MV: Parental involvement is so key in child development and educations, what are some great ways parents can be involved, even if they both work? PA: Parental involvement is key, but that doesn’t necessarily mean parents must be volunteering at the school site. At the most basic level, parents must show their children that they value education. They can accomplish this by talking to their kids about their day at school, reviewing their homework, reading together, attending parent/teacher conferences, staying up to date on what is happening at the school.

MV: It is in the best interest of our community to make sure that everyone has a good chance for an education and no one is left behind, what are we doing to encourage students to go off the front and truly excel? PA: I often tell employees, no matter their role in Modesto City Schools, they have an effect on our students’ education. I think the same could be said for the entire community – no matter your role in the community, you have an effect on our student’s education. Are you positively affecting our students? Our students need to know that our community stands behind them and our schools.

MV: What can we do to promote the advantages of the International Baccalaureate and AP programs. PA: To promote all the programs offered in Modesto City Schools, we must share more of our student success. The International Baccalaureate (IB) Program at Modesto High School and Advance Placement (AP) classes offered at all other high schools help students stand out in college admissions, earn college credits and skip introductory college classes. Students master college-level course work and expectations, while in high school.

While IB and AP are great, they aren’t for everyone. We must remember that not all of our students plan to attend college, and we must provide those students programs to prepare them to enter the job force. Modesto City Schools offers a variety of Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) programs that are available to students throughout the county.

MV: What do you think has to happen to stop our brain drain of kids leaving Modesto? PA: Our students are leaving Modesto for exciting, cutting edge organizations. How can Modesto attract those same organizations to set up shop if our brightest continue to leave? We need more Modesto City Schools graduates like Davis alumni Dave Darmstandler and others that return to make the choice to set up shop in Modesto and offer exciting, challenging job opportunities.

MV: Kids that are involved in the arts typically score higher in standardized testing, what do you feel the role of arts in education plays and what can our community to to ensure the continuation and strengthening of these programs? PA: Arts help to develop well-rounded, articulate students. Modesto City Schools continues to provide our students with a variety of opportunities to learn and experience music, visual, performing and literary arts. Often, school art programs are the only way students experience the arts.

The Arts Education program offered through the Gallo Center for the Arts offers a wonderful opportunity for our students to experience a variety of arts on a grand scale. Community groups have stepped up to bring down the cost of attending performances. To ensure the continuation and strengthening of arts in education, support Modesto City Schools’ arts efforts by attending a school music or drama performance.

MV: If you had the ability to wave a magic wand and make one change to our school system, what would it be? PA: I would ensure 100% parent participation in our students education. I think that would make a world of difference.

MV: What are some of the things you enjoy most about living in in Modesto? PA: First and foremost, the people in our community are amazing. I have received so much support and encouragement since I began this journey. Our location in the valley provides proximity to everything. I can enjoy the coast one day, the mountains and the city in a matter of hours. Our local restaurants and business provide products and services that rival any big city.

MV: Describe your perfect day in Modesto? PA: I’d love to work in my garden and then cool off in the pool with my granddaughter, and finish the day off with a family barbecue.

MV: As the students go back to school this month, what is the best piece of advice you can give to returning students? PA: You will get out of your education what you put into your education – give it everything you’ve got!

Final Question – Beatles or Stones? STONES!

See the extended interview at and find other ways to get involved with our local educational process.



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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.