Bullard group to voice concerns at school board meeting

The Fresno BeeFebruary 12, 2013 

Bullard High-area parents who say they are tired of Fresno Unified School District's failure to deliver on promises plan to address trustees at Wednesday night's school board meeting.

"I think we need to bring a sense of urgency," said John Trenberth, a Fresno businessman who has been asked to speak for the community by Reform Fresno Unified/Northwest Branch. "I'm very concerned about the future of Fresno based on the educational system."

Parents and community members who are part of Reform Fresno Unified/Northwest Branch say the district promised to strengthen neighborhood schools, create gifted and talented programs and support a dress code. Failure on those fronts has caused northwest Fresno schools to deteriorate, says the group, whose core proposed splitting the district in 2011 over similar concerns.

Many of their issues -- especially student safety -- are addressed in a video posted last month on YouTube titled "The Downfall of Bullard High.".

But school officials have disputed Reform Fresno Unified's claims, and getting support from a majority of trustees could be difficult.

Board President Valerie Davis, Carol Mills and Janet Ryan responded to the group's claims in an opinion piece in Wednesday's Bee. Trustee Cal Johnson said Monday what was written conveyed his opinion as well.

On Monday, Davis said in an interview that she was not aware of any broken promises to the Bullard area and that false information has been distributed to northwest residents. "If (the claims) were true, I'd have some concerns, but there's a lot of misinformation, a lot of stuff taken out of context there."

Reform Fresno Unified organizers said they stand by their statements.

"We have people who are saying, 'You guys are nuts. You guys are liars,' " said Chuck Manock, a Fresno attorney and member of Reform Fresno Unified. But 500 people attended a Bullard meeting on Jan. 22 with concerns, and that should be an indication of problems, he said. "We're not making this up -- and there's proof of that."

Comparing data supplied by the district and by Reform Fresno Unified can be difficult. For example, both have different numbers for class sizes at Bullard High.

The school district lists Bullard's average class size as 33, not including physical education, band and art classes. And as of Jan. 18, only seven out of 470 classes had more than 40 students, again not including physical education, band and art classes.

In a message to northwest Fresno residents and business owners, Reform Fresno Unified said 85 classes are at capacity with 37 students and 43 classes are at overload, with more than 37 students. In Advanced Placement psychology classes, for example, the average class is 41 students, it said.

Reform Fresno Unified organizers said overcrowding has led to increased violence on the Bullard campus. In 2010-11, 28 students were injured, and 82 were hurt the following year, it said. Seventy students were cited for "defiance and disruption" and "obscene acts or profanity" in 2010-11, and that number increased to 325 in 2011-12, they said.

Bullard parent Eric McCormick said he yanked his son, a senior, out of a class that was overcrowded because discipline "was so out of control that the teacher was never able to teach."

The school district needs to address its suspension and expulsion policy, McCormick said. Expelled students are shuffled from high school to high school within the district. "This is not just a Bullard High School problem, but a district problem, but it's having a huge impact on Bullard right now," he said.

District Chief Information Officer Jamilah Fraser said staff at Bullard have worked to address discipline issues over the past three years, including starting an in-school suspension program and a classroom management training program for teachers and staff, among other efforts.

The school has a "robust supervision plan in place" with six campus assistants and noontime assistants who work to maintain order during lunch periods, Fraser said. "All of these things have helped to improve the climate at Bullard High School," she said.

Trustee Christopher De La Cerda, who represents the McLane High area, said the district has to take a serious look at safety issues. But he said he needs more information about Reform Fresno Unified's claims of violence on the Bullard campus. "I've had parents tell me they don't see the same things happening," he said.

Trustee Michelle Asadoorian, who represents the Bullard area, said the discipline issues outlined by Reform Fresno Unified must be addressed. "I'm really disturbed by what I see," she said. "It paints a disturbing picture of one high school."

Asadoorian said parents asked for uniforms at Bullard High -- which could help with discipline issues, she said -- but were denied. Other schools, such as Cooper Academy, have a standard of dress, she said. "We just want some uniformity and we just want to make sure we fall in line with other Fresno Unified schools," Asadoorian said.

Board President Davis said Asadoorian's assertion is incorrect. Trustees were poised to approve uniforms for Bullard High, but Asadoorian and parents rejected an "opt-out" provision that is required by law. If parents introduced a new request with an opt-out provision, Davis said she would consider it. Asadoorian countered that Davis can tell parents "what her feelings are on that" at tonight's meeting.

Bullard area parents were promised neighborhood schools would be strengthened by a Bullard Regional Pilot promoted as a way to end the "brain drain" of students from northwest Fresno, Asadoorian said. The plan was to create gifted and talented programs, including a sports medicine magnet at the high school, but it remains incomplete, she said.

"I talk to parents who are fleeing their neighborhood schools and going to Manchester GATE," an elementary school for gifted and talented students in central Fresno that draws from all over the district.

Davis said that Bullard High has advanced placement classes; the high school and Tenaya Middle School offer honors classes; and 466 GATE-identified students attending Bullard feeder schools who receive different instruction.

Trenberth, owner of electronics supplier Pana-Pacific and a northwest Fresno resident who doesn't have children in Fresno Unified schools, said more and more northwest residents are concerned about the quality of their neighborhood schools, and it's not only parents. Elderly residents are worried about their home values, he said.

Asadoorian said it's time trustees and the district sat down with Bullard parents and talked. "Let's deal with the statistics head on. Let's not fight about statistics. Let's deal with the issues."

And Manock said he is frustrated. "We're not the enemy," he said. "We're parents."


If you go

What: Fresno Unified school board meeting

When: 5:30 p.m. today

Where: District office, 2309 Tulare St.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6310, banderson@fresnobee.com or @beehealthwriter on Twitter.

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