The 52-year-old Stockton resident is joined by James Mousalimas and Michael Gillespie as candidates to take the place of Mick Founts, who is retiring after four years in office. San Joaquin County voters elect the county superintendent of schools every four years.
Tilton has worked in education since 1987, when he started as a teacher at Manteca High School. Over the years, he has been a coach, principal and administrator, leading to his job as superintendent of New Jerusalem Elementary School District’s charter school division.
It’s that extensive background that Tilton says makes him the ideal candidate for the job.
“I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been an assistant principal, I’ve been a high school principal, I’ve been a central officer person, I’ve been an administrator and I’ve worked in two county offices of education,” he said. “I have a passion (for education).”
Tilton holds a doctorate in educational administration/curriculum and instruction from University of the Pacific. He earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from University of LaVerne and a bachelor’s degree in English from California State University, Stanislaus.
He said one thing he would bring to the county office of education was the recognition that not all students are striving to attend a four-year college and that some may prefer a trade background.
“I will go to Sacramento and lobby for a graduation requirement that’s equal to an academic requirement for workforce preparedness,” he said. “I think we can really make a difference preparing our youth for the workforce.”
Tilton endorsed the Common Core standards, which schools throughout California are adopting this year to make high school graduates are prepared for either college or work.
“It’s going to start measuring (student) growth, and that’s what’s been passive,” Tilton said. “We’re in a really interesting situation right now. We’ve known for three years that we had three years to get this implemented. The county office needs to take a leadership role.”
That role, he added, is to provide districts support with technology and training.
Tilton said the most critical issue facing school districts today is student safety.
“I think parents are scared, I think staff are scared,” he said. “When is the next stabbing going to occur? When is the next shooting going to occur?
“I think we need to have a safety plan and protocols. We need to work with first responders and truly have formalized plans.”
He suggested stationing sworn school resource officers at every middle and high school, with police volunteers at elementary schools, or military veterans if the volunteers couldn’t provide that service. Tilton also spoke of forming a committee and posting a school safety rating at every campus.
“I think we do need to be prepared and position ourselves as much as we can to prevent catastrophic events,” he said. “There is so much potential threat.”
Tilton also said his background in charter school administration would benefit the county.
Tilton worked as a charter school director for the Stanislaus County Office of Education from 2000 to 2004 and was deputy superintendent of schools for New Jerusalem School District for two years before he was promoted as the district’s charter school superintendent in February.
He said that unlike traditional schools, charter schools must succeed or perish.
“If a charter is not performing quantitatively via the test scores, it can not be renewed,” he said, “but you can’t do the same thing for the traditional public school. If it’s not performing, it stays open. Charters have to perform or they’re out of business.”
New Jerusalem has 12 charter schools under its district umbrella, which creates healthy competition and provides educational options for students, he said. For the most part, he said, the charters are succeeding and doing a wonderful job.
As far as the role of the county office of education, Tilton said it must strive to please its customers — the county’s school districts and charter schools.
“The county office has to be a service provider,” he said. “Just like a business. If people are not going to embrace whatever services (you’re providing), you’re going to go broke. You have to please the customer.”
To assess whether that’s happening, “there needs to be an analysis done” at the county level, Tilton said. “There really needs to be more of a recalibration of how the county office is providing services.”
He said he wanted to see the county educational process be as transparent as possible, so that parents and others who are interested can monitor actions by the county office of education. He also suggested putting the county’s educational budget online so people can watch spending in real time.
Tilton called his candidacy “a journey” that has been both “fun” and “the hardest thing he has ever done.”
Voters will cast ballots for county superintendent during the June 3 primary election.
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 830-4225.
Editor's note: Michael Gillespie declined to be interviewed by the Press Editorial Board. Click here to read the profile forJames Mousalimas. Click here to read the Press endorsement for Superintendent of Schools.