Serving on a school board is often labeled an entry-level position in elected politics. That is because the races attract less attention than those for higher profile seats. They also typically require less campaign fundraising and can serve as a springboard to higher office.
We add another description of school board service. It is one tough job and, if done right, can be more demanding than sitting on a city council or even a board of supervisors.
The education pot holds a broth of hot issues: testing, curriculum, uniforms, discipline, contract negotiations, taxes and now even bathrooms – and whether teachers should carry guns on campus.
Countering the challenges is the satisfaction of trying to better your community, overcoming challenges and making a positive difference in the lives of children and their families. It is hard, but gratifying service.
For many years, this editorial board has encouraged more highly skilled people – especially those with diverse life experiences – to run for the Fresno Unified school board. We are gratified that four such candidates are running for the two seats coming open.
In a close call for the Area 2 seat representing the Roosevelt High community, we recommend Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, who is a liaison and community engagement director for the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission.
She says that said her priorities are offering additional technical and vocational training, ensuring that more graduates are college-ready, encouraging increased parent involvement, promoting better communication between the district and families, and providing needed support for students struggling with classes or emotional issues.
That’s a pretty big plate. But Jonasson Rosas appears ready for the challenge. She has a master’s degree from Fresno State’s Craig School of Business, where she is a part-time faculty member. She has served on local committees and boards involved in transportation, planning, children’s health and air pollution.
She impressed us as a person most interested in solving problems and working collaboratively. We believe that her strategic thinking and professional demeanor make her the best candidate to succeed one-term trustee Luis Chavez, who is running for the Fresno City Council.
Yuritzy Villasenor, who also is running for the seat, brings a wealth of experience and a focus on improving student achievement. She previously was the top administrator of small charter school in Silicon Valley and is a former teacher now working on a master’s degree at Fresno Pacific.
Of the two candidates seeking the Area 6 seat representing the Hoover High neighborhood, we recommend Claudia Cázares, a project manager for Granville Homes, to succeed Janet Ryan, who is retiring after three terms.
Cázares is the daughter of immigrant farmworkers who graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average from Hanford High School and then graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s in business administration.
Her children attend Fresno Unified schools, so she is well-versed in the district’s strengths and challenges. She also brings knowledge of the building industry, which is important in light of the federal investigation into Fresno Unified’s use of no-bid construction contracts. Prior to joining Granville, she was an administrator of federal community and affordable housing grants for 12 years.
Her stated priorities are making sure that sufficient funding is directed to giving all children the tools to succeed, campus safety – including students’ travel to and from school – and career technical education.
Jack Jarvis, a former Fresno Unified principal who is an education and technology consultant, also is highly qualified. We give the edge to Cázares because of her great passion for helping children and the fact that she announced her candidacy in late 2015 and has been walking the district ever since.
Finally, we commend Ryan, a former substitute teacher in Fresno Unified and a longtime advocate for integrity in government. She was elected in 2004 as part of then-Fresno Mayor Alan Autry’s reform slate and joined the board when the district was grappling with an unbalanced budget, poor student test scores, and a need to build new schools and renovate old ones.
Fresno Unified’s performance and outlook rose during Ryan’s service. Indeed, her love of students and teachers is extraordinary. We wish her well in retirement.