Bob Nelson was officially named superintendent of Fresno Unified after the district conducted a months-long search for its next leader.
While Nelson, 48, has some serious issues to tackle now that he’s at the helm of the state’s fourth-largest district, we asked him to take a break and share some fun facts about his life outside of Fresno’s school campuses:
1. He likes to sing. Nelson first entered college as a vocal performance major before setting his sights on education. He showed off his vocal skills last month when he sang the national anthem prior to the McLane High football game against Hanford West. Last year, he traveled to Los Angeles to try out for The Voice. His audition song? “When a man loves a woman,” by Percy Sledge (and later Michael Bolton.)
2. He’s a foster dad. Nelson and his wife, Tiffany, have seven children – four of whom are adopted. They have fostered eight kids over the years. Now, their crew ranges in age from 1 year old to 21. At Wednesday’s school board meeting, Nelson channeled Warriors basketball star Steph Curry, bouncing an infant on his lap while conducting business on the dais. “My dad gene kicked in,” he said.
3. He’s also a twin dad. Nelson has not one, but two sets of twins in the house. His biological sons, Josh and Phillip, are 18. Twins Ashton and Sawyer are almost 2-years-old, and are adopted.
4. There’s a reason why he’s bald. In April, while Nelson was serving as interim superintendent, he had his head shaved outside of Sunnyside High School to raise money for childhood cancer research. “Maybe it’s not normal for the superintendent to shave their head, but I’m not really concerned about what other people’s perceptions of normal are,” he said.
5. He’s never lived anywhere but California. Nelson grew up in Sacramento, and has always called the Golden State home, attending college at both USC and Fresno State. “I’ve always been somewhere near the I-5 or 99,” he said.
6. He’s a teacher’s pet. Seriously: He was nominated teacher’s pet at Kennedy High School, in Sacramento, in 1987. He was also a favorite at USC: When he graduated undergrad in 1991, he was asked to be the flag-bearer at graduation for having the highest GPA in the School of Education that year.
7. This is not his first job at Fresno Unified. Not by a long shot. Nelson first started as a teacher at FUSD about 20 years ago, serving stints at Burroughs and Anthony elementary schools. He was a vice principal at Addams Elementary, and then at Powers-Ginsburg Elementary. He was also principal at Thomas Elementary. After that, he worked as an administrator for the district’s human resources department. His last gig before becoming superintendent was serving as chief of staff to former Superintendent Michael Hanson.
8. He’s still a student. Nelson is currently working on his doctorate degree at USC, after getting his master’s at Fresno State. He plans to graduate in May 2018 with a doctorate of education in organizational change and leadership. His dissertation is on disproportionate discipline of black students in schools – an issue close to home.
9. He plays a lot of paintball. Nelson and his son like to play the colorful, sometimes painful, game, and have even been sponsored by Fresno’s Maximum Paintball in a semi-pro tournament. “It hurts,” he said. “But it’s really fun.”
10. He’s been a superintendent before. This isn’t his first time leading a district. Nelson spent three years at the helm of the Chawanakee Unified School District, leaving to return to Fresno Unified in 2015. But, he’ll be in charge of many more students now. The Madera County district enrolls about 1,000 students, while FUSD enrolls more than 73,000.