Neil Young plans to provide consistency and stability while also establishing new ways to educate students as Lodi Unified School District’s superintendent.

The longtime LUSD employee became an elementary school teach 25 years ago. And he’s now officially graduated to the top spot in district.

“I certainly feel honored that the board selected my for this position, and I certainly feel the weight of wanting to do what’s best for their children on their behalf,” Young said at a reception held earlier this week in his honor at the Elkhorn Golf Club in Stockton.

With district and local officials in attendance, Young reflected on his promotion and what he wanted to accomplish.

Young, 54, has risen through the administrative ranks since joining LUSD in 1998, starting as a teacher moving from vice principal, principal, director of personnel to, most recently, the assistant superintendent of elementary education. Hi career culminating in being selected by the Board of Education at the beginning of the month to succeed Cathy Nichols-Washer, who had been superintendent for 15 years.

When asked about the priorities he will focus on as his tenure begins, Young first mentioned improving student reading aptitude.

“A major priority for our district is to increase the number of students who are able to read at grade level by the time they hit the third grade,” Young said. “We take that very seriously because we know that is the building blocks for a bright future. We are really focusing our efforts on the teacher training and focus they need to be able to teach this critical skill in our students.”

Board Vice President Gary Knackstedt said it was Young’s experience, character and ideas that garnered his support.

“I wouldn’t say homegrown, but Neil has worked in the district forever. He has a great track record, he’s worked at all levels of education and always had success wherever he goes. He knows the community, he knows the district, and I believe in promoting from within,” Knackstedt said. “Continuity is always important, but more important is Neil himself. He’s an education advocate who cares about the students in this district.”

Superintendent Neil Young speaks during the LUSD meet-and-greet at Elkhorn Golf Club. (Robyn Jones)

Young also looked to the future, noting that in the next five years he’d like to see a higher number of students leaving Lodi Unified high schools prepared for an ever changing world.

“Which means more students who are able to connect with businesses, more students who are able to enter college seeking out a profession that they have an interest in, and an increased number of students being successful,” he said.

In keeping with the theme of students planning for their future, LUSD officials screened a short documentary on the district’s Growing Futures Initiative, a career pathways partnership between local businesses and Valley Robotics Academy that’s located on the campus of Henderson Middle School. The Lodi Winegrowers, the Lodi Appellation Inclusion Collective and leading employers from the agriculture industry in San Joaquin County back the program, which is focused on providing more inclusive pathways to agriculture jobs in the region long term.

Sophomore Quinton Soria, 15, who spoke about the program at the meeting, described the process as “pretty nerve wracking.”

“I worked on my speech for the past two days,” she said.

The school just celebrated its first graduating class, said Valley Robotics Academy Principal Stacy Kahn. The program is healthy and growing, she aid, adding that the new superintendent is a strong supporter.

“(Young) is all about thinking outside the box,” Kahn said. “(He’s interested in) what we can do to bring different initiatives and different opportunities to kids.”

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