Paul Bakkom, new president of the Hemet Unified School District board.
Photo courtesy of HUSD

The 2014 Hemet Unified School District president will be Trustee Paul Bakkom of Area 2. He was elected to the board in November 2010, defeating incumbent Phyllis Petri, and his term expires in December 2014. Ross Valenzuela is the new vice president of the board.

Bakkom has a very good opinion of the Idyllwild community, and not just because his wife, Holly Guntermann, is the former physical education teacher at the school.

In July, after long-time Idyllwild Trustee Bill Sanborn retired, Bakkom and the other five HUSD trustees interviewed four candidates to replace Sanborn and selected Vic Scavarda. Besides Scavarda, the other three candidates were John Graham, Robert Righetti and Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly.

“I was so impressed with the four people from the community who stepped forward,” he commented. “All had something to offer. Although I knew Vic before, I still remember all their names. It says a lot about Idyllwild as a community.”

Bakkom started teaching in 1967. He grew up in Banning and graduated from San Diego State University. He taught first in Juneau, Alaska, before beginning his Hemet career in 1973.

While proud of his teaching achievements, Bakkom is not chained to the past. Yet he recognizes the cyclicality of education and the common concerns of parents and leaders in this state, country and world.

For example, he asked, “What’s happened to cursive [writing]?” After an HUSD award event last year, he received many “Thank you” notes. Most were sent as emails, and several were printed, but only one was written.

“How will they learn to spell or know the difference between homonyms, such as their, there and they’re, if they rely on spell-check?” he posed.

He went on to relate this phenomenon to a current worry in China that the use of a keyboard will impair children’s abilities to write the language’s complex characters.

During his tenure as president, he wants 2014 graduates to be able to read his signature on their diploma. “It’s a bridge to the past and a keyboard function,” he said.

The past is how he navigates the future. When he began his teaching career, teachers were guided by a course of study. This is what students in each grade were supposed to know or to understand, he explained.

Today, educational professionals are calling this the Common Core of Standards. The course of study evolved through several other iterations to become today’s guidepost.

“It’s just a new name,” Bakkom declared. “It sounds like a huge, marvelous new thing, but it’s just a common standards applied nationwide. It’s not complicated.”

Teachers and administrators have been through this change before. Bakkom compared it to what a local Realtor once told him. “You’re not a real Realtor in Idyllwild until you’ve sold a house three times. You’re not a teacher until you’ve seen the same concept at the start of your career and at the end of your career.”

While he sees the value of establishing standards across the country, Bakkom is not ceding the teaching function to the state or federal officials. “There should be local control. The teacher will recognize how fast each student learns and how to motivate them as individuals. Standards just put us on the same page rather than 50 different ones,” Bakkom said.

Some students develop reading skills using phonics as a tool, others rely on sight and some use both, he explained. “Hopefully, common core will get us away from scripted lessons.”

Bakkom described the ability to teach as “like performing arts. Each performance is different depending on the cast.”

Bakkom recognizes that HUSD’s financial problems are beginning to abate and to improve. With these changes, he hopes the district can restore some of the programs cut or eliminated in the past few years.

For example, HUSD used to pay for transportation to special events, such as Pathfinder’s Ranch, and subsidize the cost. Eventually, these costs became full responsibility of the students’ parents or the local Parent-Teacher Association.

“Parents are swamped with fundraising. It never ends,” Bakkom lamented. “Fundraising at the school shouldn’t determine who goes or not.”

While Idyllwild students still go to Joshua Tree, Astrocamp or Catalina, other schools have canceled these events because of lack of money. “I want to go back to what we did — the district pays for busing,” Bakkom urged.

These are a sample of the goals Bakkom hopes have been achieved when he hands the president’s gavel to Valenzuela next December.


J.P. Crumrine can be reached at [email protected]