Fresno Unified School District and city leaders are pushing everyone – not just teachers and parents – to do what they can to increase the district’s high school graduation rate.
The district kicked off its “I Am Ready” campaign at McLane High School on Wednesday, with goals of reaching a 100 percent high school graduation rate.
The current rate is about 82 percent, mirroring the national high school graduation rate. The rate is an all-time high for Fresno Unified, following national trends of steadily increasing graduation rates.
But Superintendent Michael Hanson said Fresno Unified’s progress is remarkable because it has happened despite extra obstacles the district faces – like 88 percent of students living in poverty.
“We don’t just miss the poverty line by a little bit … When we talk poverty on the Valley floor, oftentimes it’s well below the poverty line. It’s quite problematic. To have that kind of graduation rate means a great deal. This campaign, however, is about digging deeper for all of us,” Hanson said. “Districts now across the country are looking to us, believe it or not, about how we’ve done some of the things that we’ve done. We could put this on cruise control, or we could continue to find new ways to work together to make this city, our schools, our communities better places to be, and that’s what I intend to do.”
82Percentage of Fresno Unified students who graduate high school
Hanson pointed to the district’s focus on advanced placement courses, career-technical education and pre-K programs as part of its success. At Wednesday’s event, he urged all Fresno residents to volunteer at schools, mentor students or donate to Fresno Unified scholarship funds.
Fresno Unified graduation rates for Latino and black students are slightly higher than the national rates – by about 1 percent – but those students are not performing as well in school as their white peers. A majority of Fresno Unified students are Latino.
“We have a gap to close. There are gaps to close everywhere we look, and we only do this by working together to figure out new and distinct ways to get this work done to help our youth,” Hanson said.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin urged parents to build better relationships with their children’s teachers, and said that while there is work to be done, Fresno Unified should be proud of its current status.
“We are both celebrating and challenging ourselves to take even greater steps,” she said. “I can’t believe that every day I don’t read across the front page of the paper, ‘Oh my goodness, we just hit an 82 percent graduation rate – an all-time high for our district.’ That is incredible.”
Amy Winebrenner, a parent of a Powers-Ginsburg Elementary School student who has offered to help the campaign, said subtle changes can make a big difference.
“I think that people have a misconception that you have to do something crazy to make a difference, but simple connections will help our kids. That’s all they need,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you have to lead a group or something. All it takes is saying ‘hi’ or bringing a batch of brownies to the office. Just getting more comfortable with teachers, you can have real conversations.”
McLane High student Dexter Yang, a football player and certified bank teller with a 4.0 grade-point average, said he’s already started making changes in the spirit of the campaign.
“It’s shown me how ready I am to make the steps beyond McLane,” he said. “We are ready.”