InterView – Scott Kuykendall

By Chris Murphy
“Hard Work and Honesty”
Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools – Scott Kuykendall

A quality education has never been more important. As our global economy changes quickly, the need for our education system must change quickly as well. We need a world class of academic education so we can compete in a high tech global world and at the same time, we need rich arts, creative and vocational program so that we prepare all of our society for the future. Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE) has been at the forefront of innovation. Not only are our local graduation rates increasing, there are new innovative vocational paths like the VOLT Institute, the Culinary academy and enriching programs like YES Company. New Superintendent Scott Kuykendall is following in the footsteps of other innovative leaders like Tom Changnon and Martin Petersen. Scott grew up in Patterson, attended Orestimba High, graduated from CSU Stanislaus and received his Masters at St. Mary’s. He has been active in new program development at SCOE andhas many new initiatives to help the students in our county succeed. Scott lives in Turlock with this family and has a strong desire to make our community better though education. Let’s meet Scott.

ModestoView: Why education? What is it that drew you to this field and why do you find it so rewarding?
Scott Kuykendall: I always gravitated toward careers that focused on service. Originally, I wanted to go into medicine. However, my freshman year of college made it clear that math and science were not my strong suits. It was only after studying a year abroad in Spain that I changed direction and pursued education. Besides marrying my wife Alison, it was the best decision I ever made.

MV: Education is complicated, and add to this so many ethnicities, abilities, and languages, how do you make sure we are delivering a great education?
SK: A well-rounded education includes arts integration, student leadership opportunities, career options, academic and athletic competition, and activities that encourage students to explore and grow.

MV: Dropouts are down, graduation rates are up and proficiency seems to be on the rise, what do we need to do to continue this trend?
SK: We will continue focusing on innovative programs and partnerships within the community. An example of this is the Stanislaus Cradle to Career Partnership which is building a strong foundation focusing on five actions areas. 1) StanREADY – focuses on preparing children from birth to kindergarten and getting them ready to go to school. 2) Stanislaus READS! – focused on the critical milestone of reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade and implementing programs at schools to support this area. 3) StanMATH – promoting to parents good practices in the home to help develop numeracy. 4) StanFUTURES – trying to broaden the significant work of previous efforts for an even wider impact ensuring that more students and their families are prepared to enter and successfully navigate college. 5) StanCAREERS is dedicated to ensuring that the local industry will have an educational partner to train, certify, license and prepare residents to fill urgently needed jobs. Additionally, current employees may choose or be asked to “upskill” so that they can take promotions and increase their wages.

MV: SCOE has been focusing on some strategic career paths, like the culinary school, what are some of the other opportunities?
SK: We provide options like the Supply Chain Technician Program where students are learning about hydraulics, electrical circuits, mechatronics, robotics and virtual welding. We also partner with AgSafe for agriculture industry training programs and for those 18 years and older, Northern California Construction Training Program, and Valley Occupational and Learning Technical Institute (VOLT). Our newest partnership with Provident Care provides patient care assistant certification.

MV: I was part of the original team that helped develop the Valley Business School, now the Valley Charter High School, how has this been successful?
SK: Students attending VCHS are able to go to college through dual enrollment. We’ve had success with students who have completed one and even two years of college at the same time they are graduating with their high school diploma. These students complete their four-year degree sooner and their parents save money! VCHS students come to us from all areas of the county. We are meeting the needs of students who want an early college experience.

MV: Do you see that there are more possibilities to get kids college credit while they are still in high school?
SK: “Guided Pathways” is a current effort lead by local community colleges to increase the number of high school students completing college courses prior to graduation. Students can opt to attend classes at MJC or at local high schools. Many of our local high schools are now offering opportunities for students to take college classes while in high school.

MV: What do we need to do to strengthen our school at that critical 7th and 8th grade range?
SK: Communicating to parents of students in 7th & 8th grade so they understand how important language arts, math, and academic rigorous course work is during this time really leads to success in high school and sets their children on the path to college. I encourage students to look for opportunities by taking enrichment classes, summer academies, and utilizing after school tutoring. By joining clubs, taking extracurricular classes and participating in community service, it really creates the most ideal student portfolio.

MV: My daughters really thrived in the Modesto High International Baccalaureate program, what are some of the other ways we are innovating in our regional education system?
SK: Many of our local high schools have done a great job creating career-oriented pathways that pique student interest. Examples include veterinary science, visual and performing arts, agriculture, logistics, child development and advanced manufacturing. Our elementary schools are expanding dual-language immersion programs and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities.

MV: If you had unlimited resources, what change would you make in our educational system?
SK: Additional teachers – and likely not for the reasons you’re thinking. Most folks quickly link more teachers with smaller class size, but student achievement doesn’t improve unless you can maintain classes of fifteen or fewer – and that’s not feasible because schools would quickly run out of classrooms. Finland has a proven model that assigns experienced teachers with newbies as mentors. They are given time during the regular school day to collaborate by creating lesson plans, critiquing lessons recently taught, and sharing best practices in teaching and learning. This would not only improve student learning, it would also bolster strong teaching and increase teacher retention.

MV: Describe some of the successes and innovation you have experienced during your career?
SK: I’m most proud of our Come Back Kids (CBK) charter school that began in 2013. This program was created for local dropouts to “come back” and finish their high school diploma. We currently enroll over 700 adults and CBK has graduated over 1000 students since its inception. That’s over 1000 local residents of Stanislaus County that now have a high school diploma and who can further their education or obtain needed employment.

MV: SCOE has so many different departments and projects like SPIE, what are some ways that people or companies can connect and get involved?
SK: We continue to expand business partnerships through Educational Options and welcome mentors in the 6 Cups to College program and volunteers at Student Events like Academic Decathlon, Mock Trials, and Science Olympiads.

MV: Describe your ideal day? As much as I appreciate my job, my ideal day truly revolves around family. SK: After a long Saturday morning walk with our dog (and simultaneously listening to a great podcast), I love making a big breakfast for Alison and my three boys. The remainder of the day includes playing guitar, taking a nap and spending time outside BBQing with family and friends.

MV: What one piece of advice would you give a young student?
SK: The advice would be the same advice that I give to my own kids. Success in life – and that includes health, careers, and relationships – can only come about through hard work and honesty.

MV: Beatles or Stones?
SK: Stones. I love both, but The Stones have endured for so long. Plus, I play a Fender Telecaster ala Keith Richards.



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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.