New Fresno Unified hire will focus on early education

The Fresno BeeFebruary 15, 2013 

Maqueda Randall-Weeks says she's ready to make sure young children in the Fresno Unified School District get an early education.

Trustees on Wednesday hired Randall-Weeks, an early education scholar from Philadelphia, as assistant superintendent of school leadership with an emphasis on early learning.

She will begin her job, which pays $126,067 annually, on July 1.

Her charge will be to implement the district's plan to double preschool enrollment, from 40% to 80%. The challenge will be reaching out to "parents who may not understand that early learning is key," Randall-Weeks said Friday in a telephone interview. Eighty-three percent of children in the district are poor and many are English learners.

But her job will be made easier because Fresno Unified has a commitment to early learning, she said: "Everybody is ready to push for the same goal." Trustees late last year agreed to spend $7.4 million in Proposition 30 funds to expand the district's preschool programs.

Hiring an assistant superintendent shows the district's commitment, said Kendra Rogers, executive director of First 5-Fresno County. Success is more likely "when you have a person dedicated at a very high level."

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said he searched in California and nationwide for a person to guide the district's preschool expansion. Randall-Weeks stood out, he said. Her schooling includes an emphasis on early childhood learning, he said, and she is a good communicator. "It's unusual to find someone who has started their academic training ... in early learning."

Randall-Weeks, 40, has early childhood degrees from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and Columbia University in New York. She has a master's degree in educational leadership from Columbia, and an education policy and management degree from Harvard University. She is completing a doctorate at Harvard.

Her professional experience includes serving as special assistant to the Philadelphia superintendent from August 2010 to September 2011, where she was responsible for school improvement, innovation and reform. She is the third administrator recently hired by Fresno Unified who has a Philadelphia connection. In 2012, the district hired Jamilah Fraser as chief information officer and Shana Kemp as a communications analyst, a colleague of Fraser's in Philadelphia.

Randall-Weeks also worked for the Hackensack public schools in New Jersey and was acting coordinator of the New Jersey Department of Education Office of Early Literacy from 2002-06, managing the governor's reading coach program. She is married and has four children. In accepting Fresno Unified's offer, Randall-Weeks said, "This just seems like the perfect fit for us."

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

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