Challenges, hope addressed at Fresno Unified kickoff for school year

The Fresno BeeAugust 14, 2013 

Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Michael Hanson challenged teachers to change students' lives at the annual FUSD Convocation held Wednesday.

JOHN WALKER/THE FRESNO BEE — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

Never underestimate the power of one teacher.

How an educator can literally change lives of students was the theme of Fresno Unified School District’s annual convocation held Wednesday. More than 7,000 people attended the back-to-school kick-off event at the Save Mart Center.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said that last year, the district had 2,400 homeless students.

“The difference between celebrating success and devastating loss in our city sits on a razor’s edge,” he said.

He said educators have nothing to lose in aiming high to make a big difference in young people’s lives. He challeged teachers to keep expectations high for all students and they will create success “nine out of 10 times.”

It is in the “incredibly small, small spaces that substantial, critical work will happen for our students,” Hanson said.

Other speakers at the convocation also kept the focus on vision and inspiration for a new school year.

While the event was marked by moments that felt like a huge pep rally, with prizes, cheering and school staffs sitting separately, each donning their school colors, the tone had serious moments as speakers  talked about obstacles that lay ahead for the next generation of Fresno’s youth.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said, “Our opponent is decades-old poverty.”

She said Fresno’s educators are “the lead in the school play” that will do the most in transforming the city and breaking the cycle of poverty, with the city working as their “supporting act.”

Hanson talked about an Edison High School student shot and killed at an apartment a block from Cooper Middle School last year, and carried outside by his friends to bleed out on the sidewalk. (Note: The original version of this story said the shooting happened near Edison High.)

Hanson quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to drive his message home: “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

District improvements were also mentioned, soliciting cheers when Hanson said there are “over 100 portable classrooms that you will never see again” thanks to the $280 million in 2010 Measure Q dollars for building projects to benefit the district’s 73,000 students.

He said there will also be 1,000 additional children in preschool classes this year.

A proud announcement was that $52,000 was awarded last spring in scholarships to seniors — with more than $100,000 awarded over the past five years. People can donate to the scholarship fund online at go.Fresno.org/pledge.

Student achievement was also highlighted, including a film by the district’s student advisory board, encouraging people to move beyond hurtful stereotypes and embrace the idea that “we are all human.”

“We retired the words ‘anti-bullying,’” said Daniel Lee, a former Hoover High School student now working as a communications intern for the district. He said the phrase still had a negative connotation. “As a student advisory board, we questioned, ‘Why can’t we just be nice to each other.’”

Fresno State President Joseph Castro reminded the crowd of the power of education as he talked about growing up in a low-income home in Hanford, and being the first in his family to go to college.

Keynote speaker Rudy Crew, president of Medgar Evers College in New York  and previously Oregon’s chief education officer, also shared Castro’s story.

Crew described teachers as artists of humanity: “Take your brush and paint a picture of what’s possible for these young people.”

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386 or cgeorge@fresnobee.com.

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