Alexander Bronson’s vision for the Manteca Unified School District can be summed up in four words: Shoot for the stratosphere.
The 22-year-old trustee elected three months ago to represent Area 6 covering northwestern Manteca that includes the East Union High campus makes it clear that “our teachers are doing a fantastic job.”
That said he wants to enlist community resources and step up Manteca Unified’s game.
“You never know what kids are capable of doing,” Bronson, who is the youngest trustee ever elected to the board, said. “We need to push them into the stratosphere.”
And for good measure, he sees no reason why Manteca Unified can’t be among California’s top performing school districts.
That’s not just pie-in-the-sky talk.
Bronson — a driven, articulate and passionate individual — started cutting his teeth on helping others reach their potential as a 15-year-old involved in peer-to-peer education at Lincoln High in Stockton’s Lincoln Unified School District.
He’s earned a reputation of being a quiet board member during meetings. Bronson said it is because listening to what people are saying is important when you are trying to carve out a course of action.
It was a point that served him well when he was one of three teens picked to travel to the State Capitol to make a pitch for state funding of automated external defibrillators (AED) in schools. He was the one chosen to speak to the Senate panel. When a Senator told him there was no money for it, Bronson — instead of arguing or giving up — politely and firmly pointed out that he saw walking through the building how the AEDs were deemed important enough to fund for the State Capitol but not important enough for schools.
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Students need to be taught how to communicate better
The ability to communicate well is something that he believes the district has to work on as well as place a bigger emphasis on in the classroom.
Bronson, who was in his element as a member of the Lincoln High debate team, would like to see his cousins at East Union High as well as other students have the opportunity to participate on debate teams as well as sharpen general speaking skills.
“Teens can text but a lot of them have trouble communicating face-to-face or even leaving a voice message,” Bronson said.
He believes the fact he’s not that far removed from the classroom that he can understand what makes young people caught up in the technological shift tick, what can inspire them to learn, and what skills they need to succeed after high school.
Bronson is a University of Southern California graduate with a degree in international relations. He opted to take a job offer in Stockton in logistics so he could put what he’s learned to work in the community.
“I’m not saying I have all the answers,” Bronson said.
Instead he believes since he’s closer in age to the 23,000 students whose education the board is in charge of overseeing it allows him to complement the life experiences and perspectives of older board members.
Bronson served on former Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston’s Youth Advisory Commission and played a role in staging that city’s Teen Fest. He’s worked with Youth Empowering Stockton, the Stockton Boys & Girls Club, and as a 19-year-old was in charge of staff management while teaching in the after school program at Taylor Elementary School that was effective in helping kindergarten through second graders.
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Has taken interest in Manteca Unified homeless students
Growing up some of his closest friends were foster children. They served more than just friends, however. They inspired him.
Bronson noted many were dealing with issues that most teens never faced yet many were able to focus on goals and have gone onto college and other forms of secondary education.
It is one of the reasons he stepped up to serve as the board representative on the Manteca Unified Child Welfare and Attendance Committee. He was a bit taken aback to learn Manteca Unified has 700 or so homeless students. That number represents not just the relatively handful of students who may end up on the streets for a short or extended period of time with parents but those whose families are forced to bounce from living room coaches, to garages, to motel rooms because they can’t afford their own shelter.
He’d also like to see Manteca Unified acknowledge and celebrate more extensively academic and scholastic achievements.
Bronson stressed that he means no disrespect for sports noting the valuable role they play in the growth of students, but at Lincoln High sports were always celebrated while rarely was much ado made when a student got accepted at places such as Harvard University.
He said efforts such as Lobo Gold at Sierra High are on the right track for academic achievement celebration but he believes much more has to be done.
Bronson is impressed with Manteca Unified endeavors such as be.tech that stresses vocational education. And while he’s pleased with the district’s strengths in core subjects and other areas he’d like to see everything taken to the next level.
That might include creating magnet schools among the district’s five comprehensive schools where efforts are made to create concentrated facilities such as for science or the performing arts. A student interested in a more intense course of study could elect to attend the magnet programs much as the district is rolling out for be.tech programs on campus next year.
And while that may be a long process and take a lot of buy-in to shift the district’s direction, he believes there are ways to enhance the educational experience in various disciplines sooner than later.
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Engage community resources to broaden students’ education
He envisions harnessing resources in the community much like the school farm has as well as be.tech academy with various disciplines such as law enforcement and food service.
“There is no need to take field trips to the Silicon Valley,” Bronson said when it comes to exposing students to technology careers.
He noted schools could tap into the thousands of district residents that commute to Livermore Lab and high tech jobs in the Bay Area as an educational resource. Bronson said they could conduct after school seminars so a wider array of students could attend.
Bronson said significantly improving communicating is key to connect with community resources. He noted the board recently stressed to the district staff the importance of doubling down on efforts to communicate with parents about Going Digital.
Bronson wants to take it a step further. He’d like to see town hall meetings conducted by trustees in their respective districts at a time convenient to parents and the community. And instead of the district setting the agenda, it would focus on what those attending brought up.
The avid saxophone player who was a member of the USC Trojan marching band said he understands that just like a band the board isn’t about individuals.
“The board working together has the authority to do things,” he pointed out.
Bronson continues to play the sax. He’s been part of several local bands and composes his own music to relax. He also extensively reads books ranging from philosophy to finance and hits the gym to lift.
“I want to take the same holistic approach to schools,” Bronson said of exposing students to the various disciplines, physical challenges, the arts, and exploring new territory.
“Engaging students is important,” Bronson said. “Kids should be encouraged to go off script.
Bronson said it is what worked for him to improve student scores at Taylor Elementary where he sidestepped constantly pounding of structured lesson plans to ask students what they think and to use their responses to engage them further.
The 2010 Lincoln High graduate said funding is by far the biggest issue facing California education. But that doesn’t mean he is pushing for more of the same.
“Governor Brown is working to restore school funding to 2007 levels,” he noted. “We should be working to get funding at 2015 levels.”
At the same time he thinks there are things that the state doesn’t know best.
“The people who know what works best in schools in Manteca are people in Manteca and not the state,” Bronson said.
At the same time he noted there is a need for uniform standards in a number of areas.
That’s why he would like to see increased funding a mix of state mandate driven and money that local districts can use to pursue tailor-made curriculums that reflect their community’s needs.
Coming back home and working here was a no-brainer for Bronson.
“(Some people) look for other places that are better instead of working to improve (their own) community,” he said.
That plus an interest in politics prompted him to decide to run for the school board.
And the best way the board can engage the community and send students into the stratosphere?
“Communication,” Bronson said, “is essential” with parents as well as the community.