Fresno Unified school board approves southwest boundary plan

The Fresno BeeNovember 20, 2013 

Fresno Unified trustees approved a school boundary plan Wednesday, putting a bow on a decades-long project to end busing across town for hundreds of students in southwest Fresno.

The school board voted unanimously to pass the proposal, which requires students enrolled at Addams, Columbia, King, Kirk and Lincoln elementary schools to attend the new Rutherford B. Gaston Middle School in southwest Fresno when they move on to seventh grade.

Students at those schools are currently bused to Fort Miller, Scandinavian, Tioga and Wawona middle schools.

Trustees and members of the community praised the effort, which completes a longtime plan to give southwest Fresno a middle school. That area hasn't had a school for seventh- and eighth-graders since 1979, when Irwin Junior High School closed.

"It's not every day we get to be part of a historic moment," said trustee Luis Chavez. "That's what this is for our city, for our district and most importantly, southwest Fresno."

Robert Mitchell, a southwest Fresno community leader, told the board he's in "full support" of the measure.

"This progression is a culmination of what we have wanted for years and years and years," he said.

But the plan could bring certain unintended consequences, said trustee Michelle Asadoorian, including cutting student populations at other Fresno middle schools. For example, the district projects about 250 students who attend Wawona Middle would switch to Gaston, bringing that school's size down to about 350 students next year.

"My concern is Wawona was once a thriving middle school filled with a robust arts program and great academic program and it is now being gutted," Asadoorian said after the meeting. She said she's concerned the school was previously picked to be a "choice" school -- a school offering special academic programs -- but that reducing the student population there will quash those plans.

In other business, the board authorized the district to spend up to $7.8 million on hand-held tablets or computers this year.

Chief technology officer Kurt Madden said the dollars could be used to buy more than 15,000 tablets, which students would use to take new state computerized tests.

Certain classrooms are already test-driving a tablet made by Asus, he said, but the district hasn't committed to purchasing computers from a specific company.

Madden said those tablets cost about $400 each and are equipped with wireless Internet and a detachable keyboard.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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