Education Lab

Teachers promote plan to convert Bullard High to a charter school

Students leave the Bullard High campus after the sixth-period bell on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Fresno. Some teachers at Bullard High want to convert the school into a charter school and get it out from under the direction of Fresno Unified School District.
Students leave the Bullard High campus after the sixth-period bell on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Fresno. Some teachers at Bullard High want to convert the school into a charter school and get it out from under the direction of Fresno Unified School District. ezamora@fresnobee.com

Some teachers at Bullard High are pushing to convert from a public school to a charter school in an effort to break away from Fresno Unified School District’s oversight.

The push comes after recent concerns on campus that the district’s student discipline and safety policies are too lax. Teachers were to meet Monday night to discuss the process of converting to a charter school, which would allow teachers more independence and more say in how students are taught, said Bullard High teacher Jaime Maxey.

“The district is so big.   If we had autonomy, we feel like we could raise expectations in a way that challenges students across the bar. We want the freedom to make decisions that make sense, whether it’s around discipline or innovative curriculum,” Maxey said. “It’s a big and courageous step for teachers – to make the decision to resign from Fresno Unified and be a part of the charter. I think it’s a decision a lot of teachers think is good and right, but it’s not an easy thing to do.”

Bullard is one of 13 high schools in the district.

The process is just beginning: In order to move forward, at least 50 percent of the permanent full-time teachers at Bullard High must sign a petition in support of the decision, and the Fresno Unified school board must vote to approve the proposal. There are about 100 teachers at Bullard.

This is not the first time the Bullard community has attempted to break away from Fresno Unified. In 2011, a group of Bullard High parents sought to secede from the district. The “Bullard Pride” group proposed creating its own district in the Bullard and Fresno High areas. Since then, parents have circulated petitions expressing concerns about overcrowding and violence at the school, and have called unsuccessfully for the district to approve student uniforms.

Ty Davis, a Los Angeles-based attorney who graduated from Bullard High in 2005, traveled to Fresno to help facilitate Monday’s meeting. He said the push to convert to a charter school is “a move out of necessity.”

“The district isn’t giving the school the support they need to educate these kids. This isn’t a problem we can wait on because these kids don’t get a second chance to do it. We’re told to wait and hold on – that things will get better – but more and more kids are passing through the doors of a failing system,” Davis said. “Bullard has had a real heavy downward trend over the last decade in terms of academic performance and behavioral expectations. What we have there now is unacceptable.”

Over 100 people met at Pardini’s Catering and Banquets in northwest Fresno Monday night to hear the presentation on why Bullard should become a charter high school. At one point, organizers asked how many of them were teachers. About 20 raised their hands.

Dave Nalchajian, parent of a Bullard student, echoed the sentiment heard from members of the group on realizing the potential in a chartered Bullard High that was separated from the constraints of being a part of Fresno Unified.

“We ought to realize we have the capacity to work together and to build something that’s much more beneficial to our stakeholders, our teachers, our students, our parents,” Nalchajian said.

Fresno Unified Trustee Brooke Ashjian, who represents the Bullard area, said that he understands teachers’ frustrations, but that they have a long road ahead of them if they follow through with the charter school efforts.

“In this country, we vote. So if we get enough people to legitimize their vote, then they should be able to go forward,” Ashjian said. “But there are a lot of factors to consider. They’re going to have to sell it to the community.”

District spokesman Miguel Arias said Monday that the district had not been notified officially about the charter efforts.

“We would hope and encourage that (teachers) contact a district official such as the charter office to make sure that they understand and/or become familiar with the education code on this matter,” Arias said.

Staff writer Paul Schlesinger contributed to this report. Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays

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