STOCKTON — Dozens of candidates running for school boards at Stockton and Lincoln unifieds and San Joaquin Delta College pitched their ideas and solutions towards education at a forum on Friday afternoon.

Stockton Schools Initiative hosted the event at its hub at 1700 El Dorado St. to a dozen community members made up of parents and educational administrators.

SSI is a coalition made up of students, families and community members working towards a mutual goal of improving educational outcomes for children and youth throughout Stockton. The base of the forum was to give the public a chance to hear from candidates and ask questions on matters that are important to them.

Running for SUSD seats are community advocate Angel Ann Flores, parents Jazmine Hernandez and Kiasha Moore, and former City Councilman Ralph Lee White for Area 2; incumbent Maria Mendez will go up against businesswoman Kitty Ruhstaller and youth activities director Grant Gilson in Area 5; current SUSD board President Angela Phillips is being challenged in Area 6 by parent Michael Jones and Scot McBrian, a teacher; and voters in Area 7 will decide between child development counselor Aaron Edwards, retired Principal Dee Johnson and parent Candelaria Vargas.

As for Lincoln Unified, incumbent Jenny Van De Pol is being challenged by Samantha Chan for Area 1. Trustee Donald Ruhstaller of Area 3 is terming out, leaving the ballot open for educator Therese Tutupalli to run unopposed.

At Delta College, Trustee Janet Rivera will battle retired police Sgt. Eddie Brown and Richard Vasquez, a student, for Area 3. Retired college Dean Charles Jennings faces retired English Professor Diane Oren for Area 4, and incumbent Catherine Mathis runs unopposed in Area 7.

Hernandez, Moore, White, Mendez, Jones, McBrian, Edwards, Johnson, Chan, Brown and Mathis did not attend the forum.

Candidates were given one minute with an opening statement and then two minutes each to answer each prepared question.

Answers were edited for content and length.

What is your definition of education equity?

Rivera: “My definition of education equity is allowing access to all students … I want Delta College to reflect the community that we serve.”

Vasquez: “For Delta College, the main focus on equity is making sure that students are learning about their culture, their diversity, and learning about different cultures. We want to make sure that we are educating individuals and creating an environment so they can learn about equals.”

Jennings: “Equity is making sure that the support that we provide is tailored to the individual community that we’re trying to serve and making sure that everybody can achieve in a fair and level playing field.”

Oren: “Those who have been out of college for a long time, access to those who haven’t finished high school, access to veterans, the disabled who are coming back to look for a new way to earn a living, all of these are goals for the college and they’re also needs that I see in our community. Our college is a reflection on our community.”

Tutuapalli: “I think equity is exactly what it says: equality … it also means opportunity for all of our teachers, parents, students, our community needs that respect and I believe in Lincoln they get that respect.”

Van De Pol: “My definition of equity comes back to a cartoon that I saw. Of there children trying to look over a fence at a baseball game and one is tall, one is medium and one is short. The tall one can see over the fence the middle one can’t and the short one can’t and that’s equality, they’re all on same level, equity is when you give boosters so the middle height and the short student can all see over the fence.”

Phillips: “It’s ensuring that all of our students have an opportunity to do their best and recognizing that each student comes to us with different needs … making sure that you get teachers the training and extra support that they need to understand their students and that’s understanding culturally who their students are or just personally.”

Ruhstaller: “Education equity is allowing our students the opportunity to get equal education no matter their ethnicity, their poverty level, their financial level, we need to help them make those goals to make that happen.”

Gilson: “It’s really understanding what the kids need and really understanding where their levels are at and assessing to how we can improve on that and more important, applying these teachers the tools and resources they need to help student success.”

Flores: “What works for one student may not work for another student.”

Vargas: “We have to meet students and families where they are. Something that we really have to be doing is going to them because they can’t come to us, whether it be language barriers or working two or three jobs … there are a lot of obstacles in front of some families that you can’t expect them to come to us, we really have to be reaching out.”

How will you go about closing the achievement gap?

Van De Pol: “The best gift we can give our students is a highly qualified educator in the classroom and in Lincoln Unified, we have extraordinary teachers in the classroom and I’m very proud of that. … Every support that we can give all students so that they have an equal chance for an excellent education.”

What is your No. 1 goal in bettering the school system?

Ruhstaller: “Most importantly is collaboration and most people that are there to lead our children from the administration, all the way down to the staff that supports it. Once we start to listen to each other, we’ve probably come up with more solutions.”

Gilson: “We need to start at a district level with the administration and the relationships. I think at the end of the day, we’re all here for the kids. I think we need to put down our selfish ambition and really focus on how what we can do for the kids, how we can supply better education, not only for the district, but for the community as a whole?”

Flores: “The reality is not every student is college ready when they graduate high school. So let’s at least equip them for jobs when they graduate on that day and that their backpack is full of resume skills, interview skills, application skills, and just positive motivation that they can do anything that they set their mind to.”

Vargas: “We need to get the superintendent support under control … that’s a lot of stress and turmoil that we need to focus on supporting our superintendent, making sure that the board as a whole understands their role as a board member.”

Phillips: “One thing I would love to see us to is celebrate Stockton Unified and I mean starting from the inside out … we do know that SUSD has the same issues that large urban districts have across this nation and we continue to struggle with overcoming those issues … I do believe that if we do prepare all the students for college, whatever they want to do after high school, they should be ready for it. We know that many of them are not going to (attend) college, but they should be prepared, should they make that choice at the last minute.”

Contact reporter Nicholas Filipas at (209) 546-8257 or nfilipas@recordnet.com. Follow him on Twitter @nicholasfilipas.