DUBLIN -- Many high school students may grumble that public schools could be improved if students were listened to more, but one recent graduate is doing more than complaining.
Austin Ogden, 18, is attempting to become one of the youngest school board members in California by running in November against three incumbents on the Dublin school board.
Ogden said he's running a serious campaign against incumbents Greg Tomlinson, Amy Miller and Dan Cunningham because he thinks the school system focuses too much on teaching to bump up test stores rather than critical thinking to prepare for life after school.
He also wants more focus on technical training for careers.
"They teach to test," said Ogden, who graduated in June from Dublin High School and now attends Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. "The school board hasn't done a great job. They haven't done a horrible job. I'm running to bring out the viewpoints of students."
The three incumbents -- 40-something parents with children in local schools -- defend their record and say they are a better choice because they have college and work plus political experience.
They said they are proud the Dublin school system has improved test scores, encouraged innovative teaching and adopted graduation requirements higher than the state minimum.
The trio said they are best suited to keep up the momentum in educational improvement, and a win for Ogden could upset the progress made by a cohesive school board.
"I appreciate his drive. I think he has good intentions," said Amy Miller, a special events coordinator appointed to the board two years ago. "My stand is we have done a good job, and I don't want to risk changing that."
The incumbents note that Dublin voters gave the school district a vote of confidence in June by passing a $99 million school bond measure to improve buildings and facilities.
Tomlinson and Cunningham of the board said the Dublin school system has made some of the state's most significant improvements in the past few years in the Academic Performance Index, a state cornerstone for measuring student performance.
The API in Dublin schools increased from 834 in 2008 to 884 in 2011, according to the state Department of Education.
But it's not just about tests, the board members said. The incumbents say the school board and administration has encouraged teachers to meet and learn from each other about teaching techniques effective with students who learn in different ways.
"We want all our students to learn," Cunningham said. "We think critical thinking is important."
Tomlinson said the school board has supported career education in the school system, although it has not been easy with limits on state funding.
For his part, Ogden said he thinks the school district could allocate more money to career education.
Ogden said he isn't attacking individual board members as he stresses the benefits of having someone on the board who has gone through Dublin schools.
Tomlinson said the school board already gets regular advice from a student nonvoting school board member who is elected by students. "We listen," he said.
All four candidates said they don't have a firm stand on whether the school district should pursue a Dublin utility tax to benefit the city and school district in 2014 when a school parcel tax expires.
When it comes to Election Day, a big issue in the race is whether a teenager can be taken seriously.
Joe Canciamilla, a former state legislator who was elected to the Pittsburg school board in 1973 shortly before his 18th birthday, said a teen candidate must campaign hard and learn the issues.
"You get this instant reaction of 'Isn't that cute,'" Canciamilla said. "Once that wears off, you have to prove you're a serious candidate."
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.
Occupation: Owner of a tax and accounting business, former chief financial officer for the San Jose Convention Center management group
Civic involvement: Member of Dublin school board, elected 2008; four years, served as scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 708; serves on Open Heart Kitchen board
Education: B.A. in economics from UC Santa Barbara; master's in business administration from Cal State Long Beach
Occupation: Has worked as an events coordinator for Dublin Partners in Education
Civic involvement: Dublin school board member, appointed 2010; former president of a parent faculty club for Nielsen Elementary; vice chair of Tri-Valley Regional Occupational Program
Education: B.A. in child development and psychology, CSU Northridge; master's in educational psychologist and counseling from CSU Northridge
Occupation: Student at Diablo Valley College, Pleasant Hill
Civic involvement: Served as rally commissioner at Dublin High School
Education: Graduated 2012, Dublin High School
Occupation: Construction finance specialist
Civic involvement: Current member of Dublin school board, elected 2008; served on Dublin Planning Commission
Education. B.A. in business administration from USC