When asked what the next Fresno Unified superintendent’s resumé should look like, teacher Manuel Bonilla stood up in Roosevelt High’s auditorium and suggested a profound prerequisite.
“We need a healer,” said Bonilla, who teaches at McLane High. “Somebody that could heal the divide that has happened over the last few years with district leadership.”
Following a tumultuous ousting of former superintendent Michael Hanson, the school board has followed up on its promise to host open meetings across the district – giving the public a chance to tell an outside search firm last week what they want in their next school leader. More meetings will be held this week, and an online survey is open until May 26 seeking public input.
At meetings so far, held at Roosevelt, Bullard and Edison high schools, parents and teachers alike seem to still be reeling from Hanson’s tenure – one they say lacked transparency and has them doubting the school board’s next decision.
We need a healer.
Manuel Bonilla, McLane High teacher
“The last time they selected someone, things didn’t go right, and now we’re going to do this again?” said Roger Brown, board treasurer for Fresno Freedom School, an outreach program for black youth. “I just don’t understand how it’s going to work out. We still got people in those positions still not listening to the community. The board is not going to listen to the people … We’ve been trying to do that a long time.”
The conversation at the public meetings is often more about what people don’t want in their next superintendent.
Dr. Smadar Aviv, a former Bullard High mom and a psychologist in Fresno, said she wants “someone who is exactly the opposite of” Hanson, calling him “a narcissist and an ego-maniac.”
“A superintendent cannot be a politician,” Aviv said. “I think he much more cared about how he performed, versus how the students performed.”
Michelle Asadoorian, a former Fresno Unified trustee who was a critic of Hanson’s, said the next superintendent needs to avoid micromanaging the district.
A superintendent cannot be a politician.
Dr. Smadar Aviv, former Bullard High mom
“The board members are the boss of the superintendent. We had 12 years of the superintendent leading a board, and that is what has led us here today,” she said. “I think we need a superintendent who is going to empower the leaders at the school sites to do what they were trained to do.”
The public meetings have also shown a call for someone who respects Fresno’s diversity and understands the struggles that come with generational poverty.
“We need someone with cultural competency, who has the ability to collaborate with people of different backgrounds,” said Venise Curry, speaking at Edison High. “Basically, the best fit would be someone who looks a little bit more like the rest of us.”
Curry, who works for Communities for a New California – a human rights organization – said the next superintendent also needs to have “the courage of conviction” in order to oppose the school board when necessary.
I want a superintendent who knows they do the people’s business.
Dorothy Smith, retired educator
“So if they are standing for what is right for every student, they would be able to push back on the board and would be able to make their case with integrity to a parent or young person,” she said.
Dorothy Smith, a retired educator who served more than 30 years as a State Center Community College trustee, said she wants someone who will be “the people’s superintendent” – and who will work to ensure students succeed regardless of their background or demographics.
“I want him or her to make sure that they know the people that they serve,” Smith said. “I want a superintendent who knows they do the people’s business.”
How do you measure someone’s compassion for people?
Pastor Paul Binion
Jenny Crisco, a professor at Fresno State, spoke at Roosevelt High, saying that the district needs to be better at inclusion instead of trying to create a one-size-fits-all education, pointing to English learners and special needs students.
“One of the great strengths of this region is our diversity, but unfortunately what I see is that those who are not typical, what happens is that the teachers have to sort of get them up to speed rather than recognizing that they come with abilities already,” she said. “We need to be able to modify and have the resources to help them.”
Paul Binion, a pastor at Westside Church of God, said what Fresno is most concerned about is not the next superintendent’s credentials – but their morals.
“How do you measure the size of someone’s heart? How do you measure someone’s compassion for people?” he asked the search firm representative at Edison High. “I’m sure there are going to be many candidates who come to us with a great deal of experience, but there are some intangibles that are very important to me as I think about our next leader.”