Mike Gillespie, the former principal of Joe Serna Jr. Charter School, announced he will run for San Joaquin County superintendent of schools during a small news conference outside of Lodi Public Library on Friday.
Gillespie says his decision to run comes at what he calls a “crossroads in education.” California has made many changes in education with the introduction of Common Core State Standards and a shift toward local control of district budgets, Gillespie says, and he believes he can navigate the county through these changes successfully.
“We are in need of a new, forward-thinking and innovative leader that advocates and cares for all children. A higher level of education for the county’s children will lead to tremendous growth opportunities,” he said. “Education will help address the long-term high unemployment level in the county, which still hovers around 12 percent.”
Gillespie says he will focus on increasing collaboration and support among districts, as well as helping teachers impart the skills students will need in the workforce. He referred to this a kind of “externship,” where teachers can connect with businesses in the local community to include some of those skills in lesson plans.
“It could be chemistry teachers going out to a winery, learning about what’s going on and bringing it (back) to the classrooms,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie, who is originally from Scranton, Pa., received his bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from University of the Pacific in Stockton. Fluent in Spanish, Gillespie has had a role in the education of immigrant children and English learners for much of his career in education.
Before his 12 years as principal of Joe Serna, Gillespie taught in a migrant education program in Lodi Unified School District in 1994.
He started a Learning Opportunity class in Lodi to help at-risk elementary students, and became vice-principal at Heritage Elementary in 1997.
However, Gillespie’s role in starting the charter school in 2000 remains an important chapter in his life.
“What we did at Joe Serna, I will always cherish. I don’t take credit for what happened. It was taking that program from its infancy to what it is now. You can’t do that without anyone else,” he said.
Assistant superintendent for Gateway Community Charters in Sacramento since 2012, Gillespie hopes to return to San Joaquin County to take on new challenges for the sake of the students.
“I think sometimes we forget the center of everything we do is the students,” Gillespie said.