Education Lab

Big changes afoot for 3 struggling FUSD schools

Fresno Unified school trustees voted Wednesday to make drastic changes -- including replacing principals and getting rid of half the staff -- at three persistently low-achieving schools.

Carver Academy, Yosemite Middle and Webster Elementary schools are on a state list of 187 schools that have failed to meet federal benchmarks for academic performance.

The changes will include more instructional hours, a longer school year and more intervention for students.

The state identified the schools in March and outlined four options: closing the schools, replacing the principal and half the staff, reopening the campus as a charter school or significantly revamping the school by replacing the principal and setting rigorous new academic standards for staff and students -- including more instructional hours.

The district must adopt one of the state options to qualify for federal grant money of up to $2 million; the application deadline is June 1.

Roger Lucido spoke out against the changes, saying the district was scrambling to meet the grant deadline. He said the district needs to look at why the schools are failing.

"There's no evidence that firing the principals and staff will address the causes," he said.

Superintendent Michael Hanson said the money isn't the driving force, although it will help pay for the changes. The district also worked closely with staff and the Fresno Teachers Association to determine why the schools are failing, he said.

Several people spoke out against the changes planned for Carver, which include sending seventh- and eighth-grade students elsewhere until the district builds a new southwest middle school.

Trustees Michelle Asadoorian and Carol Mills said the plan would eliminate the only middle school option in the neighborhood. They voted against the changes at Carver.

But Hanson called the middle school program at Carver "nonfunctional." He said the students deserve a better option.

In a separate action, trustees approved a site for the long-awaited southwest middle school at Martin Luther King Boulevard south of Church Avenue.

The location is inside the boundaries of West Fresno Elementary School District -- which could set up a potential turf war. West Fresno officials have said they will likely fight Fresno Unified's effort to build on the site.

The district will rely on a rule that allows a district to build outside its boundaries if the property is adjacent to an existing school -- in this case, Carver Academy.

Mills and Asadoorian voted against the site, saying they were worried about potential litigation.