Ralph Womack is the type of man who lives by mottos.
One he favors is, “Do as much as you can, for as many as you can, for as long as you can.” He thinks of it often in his line of work as program manager for Operation Peacekeeper, a Stockton organization geared toward keeping kids out of gangs.
“We can’t solve the gang problem,” he said. “But we can help one here, and help one there.”
Tuesday’s board meeting was the first for the newest Lodi Unified School District board member. It was a meaty introduction to education for a man who spent nearly his entire career working as a cop.
Womack logged many hours on the enforcement side before switching to prevention. In his 37 years on the Stockton police force, he arrested many people who chose the wrong path growing up, he said. Through his work on the board, he wants to use that experience to improve attendance and keep kids in school.
As a board member, Womack has the responsibility to attend meetings a couple times a month and make himself available to residents and school staff in Trustee area 2, a region in North Stockton. In return, trustees are entitled to a stipend of $675 a month, as well as the same health benefits open to teachers. Womack said he will waive those benefits.
Womack has done his homework to prepare for the coming year as a trustee, turning to the Internet to review old board meeting agendas and minutes.
“Even before I threw my hat in the ring for this, I was already connected to the schools,” he said in an interview on Dec. 14. Outreach work trying to connect with at-risk youth has put Womack into contact with teachers, families and school principals in north Stockton.
Despite those connections, the 63-year-old is wary of blurring the lines between his job with the city of Stockton and his position as a trustee.
“I have to keep those separate. I have to change hats,” he said.
Womack has straightforward feelings about teacher evaluations.
“If I’m a teacher, I want to know what I’m doing wrong and what I’m doing right and how to improve,” explained Womack, adding that he doesn’t consider “evaluation” to be a bad word. While working as a captain for the Stockton Police Department, Womack designed an officer evaluation system that graded each individual on how well they graded one another, as well as the aspects of their job.
So far, Womack is impressed with the board’s management of the district, especially concerning the budget.
“It looks like a lot of time and thought went into reserving rainy-day funds,” he said. “You can only go to the well so many times.”
While he’s not going in with overt agenda, Womack believes there’s room to plan for new programs and goals.
“We have to be optimistic that we can make a difference,” he said, even if that means planning for a goal and putting the pieces in place to wait for available funds.
Womack’s affinity for mottos will help him stay focused on the district’s mission statement: ensuring the best education so students will be successful in life.
“We have a very simple mission statement, and we can easily measure what we do against that,” he said.
Most of all, Womack said he was impressed with the enthusiasm of teachers in the district. He still remembers the dedication of teachers who kept him on track as a young man in school.
“You gotta love it when people are focusing 100 percent on the kids,” he said.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.