After 43 years in education and 12 years as Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools, Tom Changnon is retiring effective Friday, Jan. 4, 2019.
It was January of 2007 when Changnon took his place at the helm of the Stanislaus County Office of Education. After being sworn into office at the County Board of Supervisors meeting, he walked through the front doors of SCOE’s main downtown Modesto office and employees greeted him with a round of applause. Today, those same employees would give him a standing ovation.
In his 12 years in office, Changnon has championed Civics Education, Character Development, Parent Involvement and Career Technical Education (CTE) programs. He knows that providing options for all students is critical as shown in the equal value he places on college and career prep programs.
Numerous innovative programs were implemented during his tenure. Knowing not all students flourish in a traditional school setting, one of the first programs he brought to the County was the Stanislaus Military Academy (SMA). In addition to the academic program, military cadets undergo rigorous training with an emphasis on drill and ceremony, leadership, team-building and character education. The Tactical Character Academy was modeled after SMA, but for younger students. He implemented Come Back Kids (CBK) to help adults (ages 18+) who wanted to come back and earn their high school diploma. To date, 800 diplomas have been awarded through the CBK program.
SCOE recently purchased the former Modesto Bee building, and various training/certification programs are currently offered at this site, with more in the works. SCOE also formed a partnership with Opportunity Stanislaus that resulted in the VOLT Technical Institute occupying part of this building. Recently this facility was renamed, and will now be called the Tom Changnon Education Center.
In the past 12 years, Changnon spearheaded many countywide initiatives. In his first year, he led a campaign to improve student attendance. Called Every Day Counts, this campaign helped school districts improve attendance rates, bringing an additional $3.8 million in revenue to those districts. After that, he focused on childhood obesity and the Fit for the Future initiative was born, promoting healthy, active lifestyles for students. Several schools benefited from participation by earning $100,000 worth of gym equipment. Following that came the Choose Civility campaign, implemented during the recession when organizations were undergoing cuts, and angry constituents took to the podium to contest. He extended this campaign when he continued to field national invitations to speak about the initiative and when other county offices sought his help to clone it. To this day, organizations continue to request presentations and information about the Choose Civility campaign.
Most recently, the Destination Graduation initiative helped increase graduation rates in Stanislaus County from 78.7 percent to 84 percent. Stanislaus County’s graduation rate is now higher than the statewide average. Currently the five-year “Destination Graduation” initiative is transitioning into a larger Cradle to Career movement. Through a partnership with the Stanislaus Community Foundation, a community-based Leadership Network has been formed and will oversee the efforts of this new movement.
Over the years, Changnon has received numerous awards and recognition. But to truly understand what a valued leader he has been at SCOE, one needs only to look as far as comments on the annual staff survey. “Tom is the most personable and approachable superintendent I have ever worked for,” commented one employee. “His employees trust him. They trust him to tell them the truth, to be honorable in all his endeavors, and to have their best interest at heart.”
Another commented, “SCOE has a thriving and happy work culture thanks to the energy Tom Changnon brings to the office. Our organization feels like a family.” And finally, “Tom Changnon will be greatly missed for his personable approach with staff – he knows people by their names and sends every employee (and there are more than 1,000!) a birthday card with a special written message from him. Tom makes SCOE staff feel important and special, and he will truly be missed.”Changnon’s last official day is Jan. 4, 2019. The newly elected County Superintendent of Schools, Scott Kuykendall, will be sworn-in at a reception hosted by the County Board of Supervisors on Monday, Jan. 7, 201