In a rare unanimous decision, the Fresno Unified school board voted Wednesday to hire acting superintendent Bob Nelson as the district’s interim leader while it conducts a national search for a permanent superintendent.
Nelson, who used to work as chief of staff for former Superintendent Michael Hanson, was originally going to serve in the role a short time, with the board intending to hire a more permanent interim leader. But in a special meeting Wednesday – held mostly in closed session – the typically divided board voted 7-0 to hire Nelson for the position.
“I’m just humbled and honored,” Nelson said to applause. “I will give my best self to making sure that the district is shepherded as we move forward with the intentionality of bringing in a full-time superintendent.”
I’m here to support their efforts to find the best possible candidate, whatever that should mean.
Bob Nelson, Fresno Unified interim superintendent
Nelson, who has worked for Fresno Unified for more than 20 years and previously served as superintendent of Chawanakee Unified in Madera County, said he was shocked by Wednesday’s decision. He said he would not rule out throwing his hat into the ring for the permanent position, but added he already has a busy schedule, pointing to his seven children, the pursuit of his doctorate degree at the University of Southern California and teaching class once a week at Fresno State.
“That’s a lot, on top of leading the fourth-largest school district in California,” Nelson said. “So I think it’s an opportunity for me to kind of feel out the job, and an opportunity for (the board) to see if I am the kind of individual or leader that they would want at the helm. It has to be a fit. The board has to be comfortable. I’m here to support their efforts to find the best possible candidate, whatever that should mean.”
School board president Brooke Ashjian said the board wants to start the search process for Hanson’s permanent replacement right away. The board plans to hire an outside firm to conduct a national search and has vowed to allow community input on the process.
It’s a very complex job, and we’re confident that we can get there.
FUSD Board President Brooke Ashjian on finding next superintendent
“We’ve got 74,000 kids and 10,000 employees, and it’s very important for this next superintendent, the next CEO of this billion dollar company, to be able to run this school, but also to be able to see the needs of the children in kindergarten. It’s a very complex job, and we’re confident that we can get there,” Ashjian said.
Prior to Nelson’s appointment, the Fresno Teachers Association urged the board to avoid appointing the district’s deputy superintendent, Ruthie Quinto, as interim superintendent.
FTA President Tish Rice said Quinto is “divisive” and too closely tied to Hanson, saying that in her role as the district’s chief financial officer, she is a key player in the no-bid construction contracts that are currently under federal investigation.
“Having her become interim superintendent is like having Mike Hanson all over again. Why would you do that?” Rice said. “She’s not an educator. She doesn’t have a credential and has been a roadblock to our organization in helping this district move forward.”