Sam Fant was angry.
His car parked in front of his house in Weston Ranch had just been broken into.
The 26-year-old Manteca Unified School District board member caught up with one of three 14- and 15-year-old perpetuators.
The teen was terrified.
“I was angry about the money it was going to cost me and the inconvenience,” Fant recalled.
Fant told the teen if he sat down and talk with him for five minutes, he wouldn’t call the police.
The first thing Fant asked him was why.
The teen thought about it for a second and said, “I don’t know. Nothing else better to do I guess.”
Fant asked what the teen wanted to do. He answered Fant by saying he wanted to be able to get a part-time job to make some money, hangout with other kids and maybe play in Madden or Call of Duty tournaments and possibly play on basketball courts with real nets instead of on the asphalt.
Fant found out the teen and his two friends were hanging out after school on the couch in one of their living rooms chilling but bored when one blurted out they should go see what they could find in cars.
“I didn’t want to give the kid a record,” Fant added.
What Fant ended up doing was becoming a mentor for the teen who is a student at Weston Ranch where he plays football and basketball. He also has met up with the other two and has even played basketball with them.
Fant shared how he is “sick and tired” of having teens murdered in his neighborhood and seeing them get tangled up in crime. He figured on a personal level as well as a board member — he had a responsibility to do something about it.
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Students have to feel safe so they can learn in school
“I have nothing against Going Digital and believe we need to have it,” Fant said. “But having tablets in the hands of students isn’t any good if they are scared to come to school or if they can’t stay alive.”
It explains what provides the drive for Fant to push for Manteca Unified to work with the community to establish programs where school gyms and other facilities can stay open until at least 7 p.m. on weekdays for youth-based programs.
“The taxpayers have invested millions into facilitates,” Fant said. “It makes no sense to have them stand unused much of the day.”
It is part of his philosophy that the schools should not operate as if they are separate from the communities they serve.
Although the Manteca Unified did institute an after school partnership on some of its Weston Ranch campuses, Fant says the solution — that worked elsewhere in the school district — isn’t the perfect fit for Weston Ranch. And he says it isn’t enough.
A lot has to do with the different realities that Weston Ranch — tucked in a pocket in southwest Stockton — faces.
Fant has been a victim of crime including have homes where he has lived burglarized. He currently lives in a home in a pocket area of the community that is off the beaten track and less susceptible to the spur of the moment crimes that some teens commit.
Fant rattles off the problems that kids in the community face from having few structured activities after school to violence. He believes the school district needs to be attuned to finding solutions since violence and crime distract from learning.
Fant has sought to find solutions outside the schools as well. He worked with friend Robert Marquez, a school resource officer at Edison High in the Stockton Unified School District, to form the Junior Cougars youth football program. Unlike most other youth football programs, a big emphasis is placed on academics. Boys need to maintain 2.5 grade point average. They also mentor youth and stress proper conduct. Foul language is unacceptable to a point that adults in the program that slip up are admonished or — or grievous enough — told their help is no longer needed.
Fant is the current vice president of the Junior Cougars.
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Cut his teeth as a Stockton Planning Commission member
Fant is about to start the third year of his first four-year term as a school board member.
His style has triggered some dust-ups on the board. And while he votes more often than not with the board majority he clearly has different view of things tempered by the fact Weston Ranch isn’t Manteca or Lathrop.
He is also at the center of a current controversy over whether the two trustees-elected that won on Nov. 4 — Ashley Drain and Alexander Bronson —could legally run for office in their respective areas due to residency questions. Both used Fant’s name on candidacy filing documents as someone who could vouch for the validity of the information they provided.
A complaint regarding the residency of Bronson and Drain is now being reviewed by the Secretary of State’s office.
Fant definitely is not one-faceted. He already has four years under his belt as a Stockton Planning Commission member including a year as chairman. He served on the Stockton Parks and Recreation Commission and is currently on the San Joaquin County Fair Board. He handles that between his work in property management and land use consulting.
Fant spent much of his youth growing up in South Stockton but when his parents divorced, his father moved to the Lincoln Unified School District. Fant’s farther Sam was a Stockton firefighter for 33 years and the first Black to serve in the department. His mom Michele worked for the Women’s Shelter of San Joaquin.
Fant is a graduate of Lincoln High in Stockton where he played quarterback for the Trojans. It was at Lincoln High where he became a spokesman of sorts for student causes.
“I was the go to person for other students to talk to the administration,” Fant said.
On the football team was a grandson of Alex Spanos that Fant became friends with. It was through various visits at the Spanos home that Fant’s interest in politics was further piqued.
The career path he initially chose, however, was to become a law enforcement officer.
He was attending the Sheriff Academy in Stanislaus County but with three weeks left he sustained an injury.
While at the academy, Fant said one of the assignments was for students to write their own obituary. That prompted Fant to further reflect on what he wanted to do.
Fant decided what he wanted to change things for the better. And while how bad or good anything is open to interpretation and whether what one person pursues is “good” in the eyes of another, Fant dove head first into politics.
It has earned him criticism as being politically ambitious. Such a tag is understandable given at 21 years of age he was appointed to the Stockton Planning Commission and got immersed in the rumble and tumble world of how development takes place in a community.
A few accuse him of planning to use the school board as a stepping stone. But that “charge” — whether it ends up having merit — given how Dale Fritchen, his predecessor on the Manteca Unified board that represented Weston Ranch went from being a trustee to Stockton City Council member, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I’m here to do a job,” Fant said of his service on the school board. “I may end up stopping (running for elective office) at the school board.”
Fant — who said he would describe himself as someone who is funny, likes to have a good time, works hard and cares more about other people than himself — has a simple way to judge his success as a school board member.
“After four years I’d like to be able to walk down the street and know that I’ve helped kids,” Fant said.
What drives him is the belief schools need to take a holistic approach and not simply believe that their involvement with shaping a student’s life ends at the dismal bell.
It is why he keeps going back to the need to utilize school facilities beyond what Manteca Unified is doing to provide more opportunities for youth.
Fant emphasized that he believes Manteca Unified is doing better job than many districts but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t strive to do even better.
It dovetails into advice that Fant received from a gentleman he considers a mentor — 83-year-old Dr. Joe Barkett of Stockton: “You never arrive, you are always becoming.”