As a long time California educator, I'm supporting state Superintendent Tom Torlakson because he understands that improving our schools starts by investing in our schools.

When he took office three years ago, school budgets were being slashed. Teachers were losing their jobs, along with counselors, librarians, and bus drivers. Two million students -- 1 in 3 statewide -- attended school in a district in financial jeopardy.

Dealing with the crisis, Gov. Jerry Brown and Torlakson brought teachers and parents together to end the cuts to education, and kept $6 billion in looming education cuts from taking effect.

Because they did, our schools are making real progress. We're seeing smaller classes sizes again and stronger academics. And, gradually, students are once again getting access to art, music and other programs that provide a well-rounded education.

Other leaders might have patted themselves on the back and called it a day. Brown and Torlakson did the opposite. They saw the crisis as an opportunity to restructure California's labyrinthine system of school finance, dedicating more resources to students with the greatest needs and directing more decision-making to local parents and schools.


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Consider that for a moment: Despite being state officeholders, they recognized that California's 10,000 public schools and 6.2 million students would be better off with more power and resources in the control of local officials, and not in the hands of politicians in Sacramento or Washington, D.C.

While other states have ceded more authority to the federal government, Brown and Torlakson have charted a course for California that put the best interests of schools and students ahead of political concerns.

Rather than continuing to waste class time and millions of dollars on outdated standardized tests, they moved ahead with new computer-based assessments that are aligned with the state's new, more challenging academic standards.

Our schools still have a long way to go, but we're making real progress in California. The state's high-school graduation rate reached a record 80 percent. Our state's eighth-graders are improving their reading scores faster than any other state.

And Torlakson has worked hard to improve school safety, to combat school truancy. And he's been a champion for making college more affordable and accessible for California students.

Losing Torlakson would put the progress we're making in our schools at risk. It would dismantle the productive partnership he enjoys with Brown and the state's education leaders, and put in his place a businessman with no time in public office and no training or experience as a classroom teacher.

It's no accident that California's progress has come under the leadership of two elected officials with long-standing commitments to public education

To some, the financial turmoil that brought public education to the brink three years ago may be just a fading memory. Others may believe oversight of the largest system of public education in the country requires little more than a few poll-tested sound bites.

I disagree -- and I'm supporting Superintendent Tom Torlakson for re-election.

Liane Cismowski, Contra Costa County's Teacher of the Year in 2004, is principal of Mount Diablo High School in Concord.