The race for the Area 6 seat on the Fresno Unified School Board may hinge as much on Hoover High School's graduation rate as on the candidates themselves.
Four challengers vying to replace Janet Ryan as trustee say voters are frustrated with a low graduation rate and want a change in leadership.
The candidates seeking to unseat Ryan are retired teacher Ken Trapp, commercial lender George Whitman, insurance agent Carole Blomgren and Daniel Harrison, a music teacher/economist and full-time student.
Ryan and her challengers say improving third-grade reading levels could hike graduation rates over the long run, and they agree on the importance of providing students with career/technical-education classes. But the challengers say the district has focused too much on college-ready students to the detriment of those who are not college-bound.
Blomgren said she would bring the perspective of a mother to the school board.
Her frustration has grown over the years with the schooling that children receive. Her son struggled at Hoover for years, she said. He's now a senior at Crescent View Charter School. She has a 12-year-old daughter at Edison Computech Middle School.
The district needs to track children from an early age, before middle school or high school, to keep them in school, she said.
In addition, too many students are bored and unhappy at school, she said. "I remember when I was in school, I enjoyed home-ec, I enjoyed pottery."
But Fresno Unified has gutted career/technical education from middle schools, classes that make school enjoyable for many students, she said.
She questions the board's decision to allocate only $500,000 for career/technical education from Proposition 30 funds if voters approve the tax initiative this November.
After graduating from high school, Blomgren married at 19. She attended a career college and became a registered dental assistant. Blomgren said she's taking a leave of absence from that job for the campaign and to concentrate on being an insurance agent.
Harrison, at 21, is the youngest of the candidates, but that's not been a deterrent, he said. In walking precincts, he said, voters have for the most part "been inspired that a young person is taking action into his own hands."
A part-time piano instructor, Harrison said he also works as an economist and has served as an economic policy adviser for the Johnny Tacherra congressional campaign in the Valley. A full-time student at Fresno State, he expects to graduate in December with degrees in political science and economics.
He's single and has no children. But he has connections to education, he said. "Most of my relatives are educators. There's a long family history of teaching in Fresno Unified."
He wants to make Fresno Unified "the safest school district in California so students view school as the second-safest place for them to be, with the first being their home."
His studies in economics also are an asset, he said: "We need leaders who know how to work a budget."
Harrison said reducing Hoover's dropout rate would be a priority. Parents have told him they're afraid to send children to the high school for fear they won't graduate.
The Central Valley's economy depends on having fewer Fresno Unified dropouts, Harrison said.
Contrary to the assertion of critics, Hoover High is not a dropout factory, Ryan said.
The graduation rate has continued to climb, except for a slight dip in 2010-11, she said.