Fresno metro leaders unveil 'Strive' plan to improve student success

The Fresno BeeApril 4, 2013 

Fresno County education, business and government leaders released a baseline report card Thursday that they say is the starting point for a "cradle-to-career" regional movement to improve student success.

The report card measures preschool enrollment to college graduation rates and will provide a road map for the community to follow in preparing students for careers, the leaders said.

Career readiness is "critical to business success and also critical to a community's vitality," said Eric Johnson, president of The Fresno Compact, a nonprofit business and education organization that is coordinating Fresno Area Strive, the new educational collaborative.

Fresno Area Strive is part of a nationwide movement that is in more than 70 cities. The Fresno partnership includes the Fresno, Central, Clovis and Sanger school districts, Fresno State, Fresno Pacific University and National University. Community and business organizations such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Reading and Beyond and the Fresno Business Council also belong.

The Fresno movement encompasses more than 130,000 students in the four unified school districts and more than 50,000 higher-education students; its wide scope gives it a collective strength, the leaders said.

"The regional approach is unique," said Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson. "I don't know if this is going on anywhere else in the state."

Flanked by a preschool class at Vang Pao Elementary in southeast Fresno, the Strive members said the movement chose kindergarten readiness for its initial attention. The group's first act this school year was to test 11,000 students at the start of kindergarten in Fresno, Central, Clovis and Sanger unified school districts to learn how many were ready to begin school.

The Strive report card shows the group has work to do. Only 37.5% of the young students were ready for kindergarten and only 42% attended licensed preschools to get them ready.

An action team has been created to improve kindergarten readiness, said Tom Crow, the former State Center Community College chancellor who is the Fresno Area Strive executive director. "This team is meeting today," he said Thursday.

Crow said the report card exposed another alarming statistic: 29% of kindergartners missed 10 or more days of school, and the percentage didn't change much for students in higher grades.

Fresno Area Strive is modeled after a nationwide movement that started in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky in 2006. According to the Strive Network website, efforts in Cincinnati led to a 9% increase in kindergarten readiness over four years.

The Fresno program is data-driven. But rather than comparing results of individual schools or districts, the numbers provide a look at overall student progress in the Fresno metropolitan area. The collaborative approach gives this movement an edge over other educational improvement efforts, Crow said: "Let's not pit you against each other, let's get you working together."

Central Unified Superintendent Mike Berg, who was at the Strive kick-off Thursday, said the unified school districts can use regional data to share ideas and adopt what works best. "Students are moving in and out of our districts," he said. "They can't receive four completely different approaches to education."

Fresno State President John Welty convinced educators and business leaders to bring the movement here. On Thursday, Welty said: "This is a day of great significance for our community."

Fresno Area Strive aligns education, business and the public sector to prepare an educated work force for the region in the coming years, he said. "We can say to our young people, the most important thing you can do is learn and we're going to support that effort."

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said the city is ready to help. "Our success as a community will entirely be forged by whether we do right by our children in their educational success," she said.

Striving for success

Fresno Area Strive wants to improve on these statistics for students in the Fresno, Central, Clovis and Sanger school districts:

  • 42% attend licensed preschools
  • 38% ready for kindergarten
  • 24% of seventh-graders miss at least 10 days of school
  • 59% of ninth graders feel safe in school
  • 18% of eighth-graders are proficient in general math
  • 47% of third graders are proficient in English

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

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