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Stepping down from top Manteca Unified post after a decade

Superintendent Jason Messer — who led Manteca Unified schools through the Great Recession budget crisis and oversaw a number of major education initiatives such as Going Digital and expanded vocation programs including the academies — is resigning as of June 30.

The unexpected announcement Tuesday means the board will need to appoint in an interim superintendent to lead the 24,000 student district that also has more than 3,000 employees as the search for a permanent replacement takes place. There are three possible options —  taping existing district personnel such as one of the deputy superintendents, seeking the service of a retired superintendent, or conducting an open search,

Messer, 48, has served as superintendent for 10 years. It is the third longest superintendent among the state’s 100 largest school districts. His tenure is topped only by Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser who has been in his post for 16 years and Lodi Unified Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer who has been on the job for 11 years. Nichols-Washer was the Manteca Unified superintendent before taking the Lodi Unified position.

Messer, who has been a Manteca Unified administrator for 18 years, indicated he is eager to get back to more “hands on” pursuits when it comes to education and has been exploring several options with most of them tied to innovative education. Messer said the next step in his career path will not be in the traditional K-12 school setting.

Messer had nothing but praise for Manteca Unified teachers, the administrative staff, and support personnel.

“Manteca Unified School District continues to maintain strong and conservative fiscal health of the annual budget, passionate and dedicated teachers and support staff, one of the highest graduation rates in the valley, while ensuring each and every student is college and career ready,” Messer wrote in a letter that is being distributed to staff today.


100% MUSD graduation

rate was among his goals

Messer said if he has one regret it is not being around as superintendent when Manteca Unified attains its goal of a 100 percent graduation rate.

Manteca Unified in June of 2017 had a 96 percent graduation rate compared to the statewide average of 83.2 percent.

Typical of the holistic approach district educators have taken on his watch, teachers and administrators instituted an endeavor that identified struggling students as early as the seventh and eighth grade and targeted steps tailored to each student’s needs to get them on track. That list of students being tracked makes it all the way to Messer’s desk for constant monitoring of student progress.

As a result, last year only 75 students did not graduate. This year with less than three weeks left of school there are only 25 students that are likely not to receive a diploma.

The strong emphasis just not on college bound students but all students has been a hallmark of Messer’s leadership.

Given Manteca Unified mirrors the rest of the state in that only 20 percent of its graduates will go onto college as well as those that go to community college and other post-secondary education tracts often end up not completing their studies, Messer working with the school board and staff put in place stronger vocational programs that emphasized dovetailing as smoothly as possible into additional studies at the community colleges or vocational schools.

The high profile charter high school that offers core education programs with strong vocational academies in culinary arts and hospitality, industrial fabrication and design, as well as first responders is just one piece of the puzzle. There are also style programs at high school campuses as well as a new effort to help students interested in teaching on a career path with specialized programs and mentorship that is designed to ultimately help assure Manteca Unified of teachers as the national teaching shortage grows.

Those programs were added to existing endeavors such as the Regional Occupational Program and the agricultural/school farm effort.


MUSD offers more

preschool options than

any other SJC district

On his watch, preschool and school readiness programs have flourished to the point Manteca Unified has put more such opportunities in place than any district in San Joaquin County.

Messer also led the Going Digital initiative that rolled out devices at all grade levels. The superintendent noted there were hiccups and that worked to address them.

He added that the initiative didn’t dictate how much digital devices are incorporated in an individual teacher’s classroom. That said, Messer said he has bene impressed with the innovative way that teachers have employed devices and wedded them with books, classroom teaching, and one-on-one instruction.

Messer has led the district through thorny diversity issues that have been addressed without creating major uproars. An example was the “I am a lesbian T-shirt” controversy involving a student. The district quickly addressed the concerns, made policy changes to address free speech issues, and was able to resolve the matter without going through an upheaval.

The superintendent noted the district serves three distinct and different communities — Manteca, Lathrop, and southwest Stockton — that each have their own unique cultural and social-economic issues.

He lauded staff for their commitment to academic success at all levels. An example is French Camp School that was on the ropes and a potential candidate for a state takeover that was able to turn things around by working with existing staff to make it a much stronger performing school.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge of his 10 years was the budget crisis that hit just after he became superintendent fulltime.

He put together a committee of more than 100 people consisting of representatives from all of the schools as well as various disciplines from teachers to support staff to examine expenses, devise priorities, and make recommendations on how to streamline schools with the ultimate goal not just to survive but to thrive.

Messer said he is particularly proud that the board and staff were able to protect funding a number of programs that other districts opted to cut such as JROTC, performing arts, band, choir, and the school farm among others.

 Messer believes the fact the district is positioned fairly string financially as well as being in  a growth mode will make the Manteca Unified superintend job appealing to a large number of well-qualified candidates.

Some of his unfinished business is overseeing the transformation of Manteca High with modernization as well as growth funds. Messer believes there are a number of unique education opportunities that could be pursued at Manteca High due to its proximity to downtown.

Messer’s wife Kristen will continue to work as a science teacher as well as a district tech coordinator.

Messer has 25 plus years in education He has served as Manteca Unified Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, Director of Elementary Education, as an elementary principal, a dean of students and as a teacher.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email