Alberto Lopez Velarde says he’s qualified and ready to lead this region in preparing students through education, apprenticeships and innovative business partnerships.
Velarde is vying to become the next Merced County Superintendent of Schools. He is facing incumbent Superintendent Steve Tietjen in the primary election on June 7.
With only two candidates in the race, it’s a winner takes all scenario with no need for a runoff in November.
“I think we could do better, Velarde told the Times during a campaign fundraiser at the fairgrounds. “We need to provide educational options for students. We need to get students college ready. If you look at pre-covid data, I believe it was 2017-18, we had 4,047 high school student graduates from our communities, and only 206 students went to UCs, and we had 480 who went to CSUs. So if you at that percentage, about 16 percent of the students did go to a four-year college, but you are talking about 84 percent who did not.”
The 58-year-old Velarde says he has more than 30 years of experience in public education, and he is currently working as a principal of Heritage Elementary School in Lodi. He commutes to work from his home in Merced.
Velarde’s campaign platform has been based on three points: 1) Create a system where high school students are college ready and have the opportunity to graduate with college credits; 2) Expand Career Technical Education offerings and establish a Comprehensive Apprenticeship Academy that will help high school students earn a vocational/career certificate and help them be ready for the workforce; 3) Create a countywide Character Education Program to prepare students to succeed in all aspects of their lives.
“I think right now we are a little behind in these areas, and that’s why I am running for office,” he said. “I want to make a difference. We want to bring a Bridge To College program that will focus on students who are borderline, or are not otherwise planning to go to college, to provide mentorship and interventions before and after school so that they can be successful. We need to target those students who are at risk. You know, our high school AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination program) does a good job, but they don’t have the ability or resources sometimes to go the extra mile. We have the resources at the Merced County Office of Education so that we can do more.”
Velarde said other pre-covid data regarding county schools show 4 percent of students were proficient at math, and only 14 percent were proficient in English language arts. “Nobody is talking about this,” he said. “As superintendent of schools, I will bring new ideas so all students can be successful.”
With regard to the difference between his CTE plans and some existing local school programs, Velarde says his plan will include a functional certification process that will have students “work ready” right out of high school.
Also, the candidate adds, “We want to make sure our schools are safe, and our students are responsible and respectful.”
The candidate admits he’s running a grassroots campaign without the support of big sponsors. “I’m not aligned with anybody. I don’t owe anything to nobody. Just to the community,” he said. “We are walking districts and talking to anybody and everybody who will listen. We are pushing hard.”
Velarde was born in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, and moved to the United States when he was 11 as a child of migrant workers. The family settled in Merced, and the young Velarde attended Aida Givens Elementary School, and Hoover and Rivera middle schools. He graduated from Merced High School in the Class of 1983.
He went to Fresno State, earned a teachers credential, and went to work as a teacher and wrestling coach. He eventually ended up in school administration in a variety of leadership roles at the elementary, middle school and high school level.
The candidate stressed he’s in the superintendent race not for himself, but for the students.
“If people want change, they are going to vote for me” Velarde said. “If they are happy with the incumbent, they are going to vote for him. But I think we need change. We need to make a difference so that all of our students are successful.”