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Political Notebook: Former Castro resident seeks San Mateo education post

by Matthew S. Bajko

Gary Waddell, Ph.D.
Gary Waddell, Ph.D.  

Born and raised in Ashville, North Carolina, Gary Waddell , Ph.D., grew up in a family dedicated to public service. His father was a local fire district chief, while his mother worked as a school district secretary.

He followed in her footsteps in pursuing a career in education. Waddell became an award-winning school counselor in his native state, where he also was a foster parent for adolescents with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

"I think something about that experience, sitting across the table from kids and hearing their lived experiences in schools, really changes who you are," said Waddell, 54, in a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

Wanting to more fully come out of the closet, both professionally and socially, as a gay man, Waddell moved to San Francisco's gay Castro district in 2003, as he had several close friends living in the city.

"That was the year my father passed away as well. In a moment of reflection, I decided to move out here," recounted Waddell. "I never looked back. I love it."

A former school principal, he is currently the deputy superintendent of the San Mateo County Office of Education overseeing instructional services and programs. He previously had served as the county education office's associate superintendent of instruction and its curriculum services administrator.

Now living in Pacifica, where he moved two years ago, Waddell is a first time candidate for public office. He is running to succeed lesbian San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Anne E. Campbell .

"My passion has always been really around equity and ensuring schools are safe spaces where all kids can thrive," said Waddell in a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "I am doing this because I want to do something bold and make a difference."

After serving two four-year terms in the position, Campbell opted not to seek re-election next year. Her current term will end in January 2019.

"It has been a true honor to serve as county superintendent over the past seven years," stated Campbell in announcing her decision earlier this summer. "I have so appreciated the opportunity to work with the outstanding staff at the San Mateo County Office of Education, as well as with educators and partners throughout San Mateo County. We share a strong and devoted commitment to the educational success of all our county's children and youth."

The county education office works with 23 school districts on the Peninsula with a total enrollment of nearly 94,000 students. It provides teacher training and staff development as well as fiscal oversight and legal services for the districts.

Waddell, who officially announced his campaign in June, is running against another insider candidate. At the end of July Nancy Magee , the county education office's associate superintendent for the student services division, formally announced her candidacy.

She oversees direct educational services to students who are in the juvenile justice system or who are enrolled in the county's special education program. Also under her auspices are safe and supportive schools initiatives, including emergency response and mental health coordination, foster youth, Safe Routes to School, Career Technical Education, and Special Olympics.

A lesbian and mother of two grown sons, Magee lives in Half Moon Bay.

"After 34 years of dedicated service in education, as teacher, coach, librarian, and administrator, I am launching my first political campaign!" Magee announced via Facebook July 30.

As of June 30, Waddell had raised $23,026 for his campaign and spent nearly $5,000, according to the most recent financial disclosure form. Magee, meanwhile, reported having raised $14,850 and has spent very little to date.

She and Waddell are the only candidates to pull papers so far for the 2018 race. If neither captures more than 50 percent of the vote on the June primary ballot next year, then they will both advance to the November general election ballot.

Should either win the race, Waddell or Magee would be the highest-ranking countywide LGBT official on the Peninsula. Waddell has endorsements from gay former state Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park) and gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

"Gary is the kind of leader that we need in San Mateo County â€" creative, visionary, and an advocate for all children," stated Gordon.

Four of the county's five supervisors have also endorsed Waddell â€" Supervisors David Canepa, Warren Slocum, Carole Groom, and Don Horsley â€" though Horsley also endorsed Magee.

Both candidates are advocates for LGBT students. Among Magee's campaign platform, under the heading of "Safe and Supportive Schools," she lists "positive school climate work and anti-bullying efforts," as well as wanting to support marginalized youth, including those who identify as LGBTQ and/or transgender.

Fostering a safe school environment for all youth, whether they are LGBT or straight, is also a key concern for Waddell. His campaign slogan is "Standing Up for Kids."

"I have made my career largely about advocating for kids and making sure schools are safe places for all kids regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status," said Waddell. "It is what I get passionate about."

School finances are likely to be a key issue in the campaign, predicted Waddell, as the county education office has seen its state funding kept flat in recent years and it isn't expected to increase anytime soon.

"The county office will be flat funded for many years into the future, so we have to be disciplined and smart about the kinds of services we can offer," he said. "It is a challenge that will not only be a focus for this race but for the next decade."

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on Equality California's rebranding itself.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail mailto:.


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