Fresno Unified's superintendent isn't letting anyone off the hook when it comes to kids' education.
Superintendent Michael Hanson gave an emotional pitch on Monday to an audience of about 450 teachers, administrators and city leaders at the annual state-of-the-district event, asking them to give more of their time and attention to students, many from hardscrabble roots with the "cards stacked against them," he said.
Each attendee got a black wristband with the phrase "black, white, brown, yellow, red, human." Hanson asked the crowd to each wear the bracelet until it wore out and remember that every child deserves a caring community.
"High-quality education is the ultimate gift," Hanson said. "Not tests for tests sake, but yes, reading, writing, and math count. Arts and athletics count ... and loving kids all along the way count to keep kids on track to graduation."
The sold-out event at the Radisson Hotel raised $51,325 for student scholarships. Staff and teachers have donated an additional $19,553 for scholarships this school year.
Hanson gave a snapshot of how the district is doing financially and academically.
It's been a big year so far.
Teachers and administrators are juggling new academic standards called Common Core, he said, on top of flexibility from certain federal accountability laws and a new funding stream through Gov. Jerry Brown's recently adopted Local Control Funding Formula.
The district is getting about $15 million extra from lawmakers, he said, which will go toward lengthening the school day at certain campuses next year. Students are also facing more rigorous course material through Common Core, a new set of math and English standards aimed at getting schoolchildren ready for college and careers.
"We're creating higher standards for all," he said. "So all get the best shot possible so we can get solutions to long-standing problems."
The district is also currently locked in negotiations with the local teachers union, he said. Those talks have focused on a plan giving teachers a 6.5% raise over three years and a proposal that adds 10 extra professional work days to the school calendar.
Discussions have escalated in recent weeks, with the Fresno Teachers Association lambasting several district proposals. Hanson admitted there's still a way to go to find common ground.
Fresno Teachers Association leaders did not return phone calls Monday.
Hanson pointed to a slight uptick in graduation rates last year and said more students are enrolled in early childhood education classes than ever before.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who also spoke at the event, agreed that there's much to celebrate.
For one thing, she said, graduation rates among African American students have jumped up 10 percentage points from 2012 to 2013.
"Give yourself permission to be happy about the good things and celebrate the good work," she said.
All seven school board members and several other civic leaders were also at the luncheon.
Trustee Michelle Asadoorian said she's pleased with several of the district's new initiatives, but said she's concerned many families in her representation area no longer feel committed to Fresno Unified. She said parents in the Bullard neighborhood are seeing better options in Clovis or other high schools outside northwest Fresno.
"I agree with (Hanson's) statements on community," she said. "But because so many of the neighborhood families are fleeing our district, it's harder to maintain a community feel and then it makes it harder to band together and fix our schools."
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