Brandman adjunct elected to Modesto City School Board
Charlene West is a middle school counselor, a Brandman adjunct, a community actress and, now, the newest member of the Modesto City School Board. She was elected at the beginning of November, sworn in on Tuesday, Nov. 28, and takes her seat at the dais on Dec. 11.
Getting there wasn’t as easy as she thought it might be.
“I was surprised at the amount of time it took to run a campaign. I had never run for office before. It was very overwhelming when I looked at everything it takes to run an effective campaign,” West said. “I truthfully just wanted what’s best for the kids.”
West decided to run, at the urging of another board member, because she thought her educational background and experience would be useful and that she could be a voice for teachers, parents and students. Her work in the Sylvan Unified School District, also in Modesto, puts her in daily contact not just with teachers and parents but also students, especially at-risk students. “That also brings another perspective,” she said. She has the added advantage of a daughter and son-in-law who are teachers and a grandson in kindergarten.
Among the challenges she’ll face as a board member is selecting a new superintendent. More generally, she said, most California school districts are struggling to close the achievement gap, coping with the changes brought on by Common Core and trying to find solutions to low teacher morale and general staff discouragement.
While there are many things the local school board can’t control because of state and federal mandate, West said, “We need to treat teachers with respect and give them a little leeway in the way they teach. Teachers went into teaching because of they have the heart for helping children. Sometimes I think now they’re being asked to do things that are counterintuitive to why they went in.”
Her background in school counseling services convinces her that preventive work – fixing problems at the elementary school level – would go a long way toward solving later behavior problems.
It’s a point she likes to get across to her Brandman students. “I love working at Brandman,” she said, particularly valuing the face-to-face time she gets with graduate students in her school counseling and psychology courses at the Modesto campus. “I learn a lot from my students. I think the programs that I’ve taught are quality programs. Brandman students get good instructors, and the students are well prepared.”
Preparation is something she knows well. She spends her spare time learning lines for theater productions, most recently a Neil Simon comedy, “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” at the Murphys Creek Theatre. Now she’s preparing for a January production of “Church and State” and April production at the Gallo Center in Modesto of “Rumors,” another Simon comedy.
“I got into acting when I was in high school. I decided not to go into professional theater. I like to eat and didn’t want to be a starving actor.”
Just as actors need to work together on the stage, West sees being on the school board as a way to be part of the solution for getting parents, teachers and administrators to work together. “It’s a little overwhelming to think of the responsibility. I’m hoping to do the best I can and make Modest City Schools a good place to work and a good place for our students to get their education.”
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