School Board Election 2012: Robert Studdiford

Robert Studdiford sitting for portrait

Robert Studdiford is one of four candidates running for two school board positions in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. “I literally feel like I have a master’s if not a Ph.D. in West Contra Costa Unified public education,” he said. “I feel like I have a responsibility to my community.” (Photo by: Brittany Patterson)

In eight years on the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee, seven on the Citizens’ Budget Oversight Committee, and years on PTAs and coaching soccer, Robert Studdiford taught himself how the West Contra Costa County Unified School District system works.

Pretty remarkable for a high school dropout – which is one reason the school board candidate says he’s qualified for the job.

Studdiford is a Berkeley-tinted version of a Horatio Alger story. At 17 he dropped out, moved out and began working at a theater company in New York. For two years he stage-managed for the Syracuse Ballet and with his time off began hitchhiking across the country.

He joined a communal house and watched as the crack wars of the ’80s erupted in his neighborhood. He sold flowers for seven years, traveled the world for one, and then came back and became an electrician.

Until one day he says, “My boss of seven years lit me up,” — that is made him really angry — “and I almost killed him. I ran around a job site with a big old wrench.”

He quit the next day.

Studdiford’s wife, Lauren, bought a bike soon after, but couldn’t carry a water bottle, pump and lock while riding — and so began his journey into patenting bicycle fasteners. His company Twofish Unlimited holds five patents now.

Why Twofish?

“My wife and I are Pisces — she had a problem and I fixed it,” he said matter-of-factly. “And we’re unlimited because no one should limit themselves.”

Studdiford says it was the influence of his friend Amy — the first in the commune to become a parent — that sparked his involvement in West County schools where he would go volunteer, once even constructing a to-scale version of the solar system complete with a 20-foot-tall planet.

“When my oldest son Adrian got ready to enter kindergarten,” Studdiford said, “Amy took me aside and she said, ‘OK Robert you’re going to get on PTA. Now you’re to join site council and you’re going to coach sports. Because these are the people you’re going to see for the rest of your child’s education.’”

He says she was absolutely right.

From there he became vice president of the PTA, which snowballed into sitting on the redistricting committee for Lovonya Dejean Middle School.

“That really opened my eyes to the diversity in the district,” he said. “How big the district was and what are the social issues that happen from neighborhood to neighborhood.”

For Studdiford, being an advocate for children meant then and means now a need to understand the money.

“What Amy really helped me understand early in the process was if I knew and understood where the flow of money went I would be able to advocate in the best form for my own children’s education and by doing that I would be able to strengthen the whole process,” he said.

Studdiford has sat on the committee that oversees $1.27 billion in bond dollars and the construction of 56 buildings in the district, but he first got involved when his son’s elementary school, Castro, came up for renovation within the bond program.

It’s his experience — the 12 years he says he spent learning how to listen and ask questions — that makes him a good candidate to sit on the school board, he said.

If elected, he says he would like to use the relationships he has accumulated to create better dialogue between the district and bargaining units such as the teacher’s unions. He would also search for more financial stability in the district, which could mean creating new relationships through business or lobbying at state level.  And he wants to bring arts back into the schools.

Studdiford says choosing to run, to open himself up for public scrutiny, was a serious decision.

“People say, ‘Well you know you shouldn’t be running. You’re a high school drop out — what do you know about education?’” he said, words tumbling out after one another, hands pounding on the table.

“I’d like to ask them, ‘What the hell do you know about troubled youth? What makes you understand? Why shouldn’t troubled youth be represented at the board level? Why shouldn’t I represent a child at risk, both educationally, socially?’”

For Studdiford, a man who has taken life’s challenges as they come — who once rode two-and-a-half days in a big rig with a shotgun in his lap during a truckers strike, to which he says — “It was both our lives, so hell I was ready to shoot” — running for this office means more than just sitting on a board with a host of well-educated individuals who make important decisions.

“I literally feel like I have a master’s if not a Ph.D. in West Contra Costa Unified public education,” he said. “I feel like I have a responsibility to my community.”

 

7 Comments

  1. Janet Enos

    What a great article! First time I have had the privilage of reading Richmond Confidential. I wish Robert the best of luck in this School Board campaign.

  2. District voter

    How odd that the teachers’ union endorsed a high school drop out – one with a hair-trigger temper. Not a good role model.

    • At least when he writes something he doesn’t hide behind a made up psuedonym.

      I think that the teachers saw in Robert much of the same that I saw in him. He’s knowledgeable about the issues, he’s willing to work with others, he’s devoted, willing to put in the time, committed and approachable. Knowing Robert as I do, I also believe he will be able to represent ALL of our District and represent them equally. I believe this is something that is especially important to many part of our District.

      Is Robert rough around the edges–yes. Roughness around the edges is something that can be worked on, though.

      When elected, Robert should be able to hit the ground running with a minimum of on the job training. All four candidates are imminently qualified so this election comes down to the subtler nuances that differentiate the candidates. That’s why it’s so important to get to know each of them before casting your vote.

      • Ben G

        Couldn’t agree more Don. By the way district voter, the district hired me, a height school dropout FROM THIS DISTRICT to teach because education is about way more than a piece of paper. It’s about preparing kids for LIFE

      • District voter

        @Don Gosney: If I had praised Studdiford would you have cared whether it was under a “made up pseudonym”? (Which, BTW, is redundant – all pseudonyms are made up.)

  3. Anna Rose

    I’m voting for Randy Enos and Todd Groves. They care more about the importance of education. All the district school board members have received campaign donations from vendors involved with the construction bond as some point, including the bond management company the Seville Group Inc. That is a big conflict of interest! Mr. Studdiford received approx. $50,000 from construction interests while he was the CHAIR of the school bond oversight committee, $20,000 was from the Seville Group. They got in trouble for their influence in school board elections in San Diego. I’m sick of money in politics and electing people that represent their financial backers, not the people!

    Robert Studdiford campaign files
    http://64.166.146.18/CFD_Web_Images/2012/987/00198720121004F16.pdf

    Robert Studdiford in action as Chair of WCCUSD CBOC:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvXCsRSUwok

    The Seville Group Inc.:
    http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/apr/27/tp-contractor-in-s-county-probe-makes-plea-deal

    Interview of school board candidates:
    http://www.insidebayarea.com/news/ci_21897078/contra-costa-times-editorial-enos-groves-best-choices
    Video: http://bcove.me/tcy05135

    CAMPAIGN FINANCE:
    Contra Costa County: http://www.cocovote.us/
    Secretary of State: http://www.cal-access.sos.ca.gov/
    City of Richmond: http://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=1440

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