While no official decisions have been made regarding the hiring process for the next Fresno Unified School District superintendent, trustees are leaning toward a nationwide search – and want the public to have a say.
Several Fresno Unified trustees say they want community input on who should take over the state’s fourth-largest school district, after Superintendent Michael Hanson announced last month that he will resign in August. Trustees warn it’s premature to discuss the details, but say they would like to hire a search firm to recruit candidates.
School board president Brooke Ashjian – who has long been the most vocal trustee on the board – would not comment for this story. Trustee Valerie Davis also could not be reached.
Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, who was elected in November, says this is a chance to win back the public’s trust after a tumultuous year. The district is in the midst of a federal investigation that is probing school construction contracts, and a related lawsuit is ongoing. Hanson contends his decision to leave the district is unrelated to those controversies, though.
Having the public involved and part of it will hopefully help rebuild some of that trust people might have lost.
FUSD Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas
“Having the public involved and part of it will hopefully help rebuild some of that trust people might have lost,” Jonasson Rosas said.
“I think it’s incredibly important to have as much community participation as possible. What shape or form that looks like is up to the full board – we still have to talk about what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. What will be important to me is to make sure we have a public process that incorporates the community.”
Trustee Carol Mills suggested hosting multiple town halls “so the community can express what qualities, characteristics and experience they desire in a new superintendent” before the job is posted.
Mills warned it could take time, though, and that a public hiring process can get tricky.
“The hiring of a high school principal can take three to four months. The hiring of a superintendent for a district of this size with its challenges – if done right – could easily take four times as long,” Mills said.
“Some qualified candidates won’t apply if the vetting and names of candidates are public or disclosed … The key concept is that the board hires the superintendent because the superintendent is accountable to and answers to the board. The board answers to the community.”
Trustee Christopher De La Cerda emphasized it’s too soon to make a decision, saying, “we still have a superintendent in place,” but suggested something similar to Fresno City College’s presidential search process, in which finalists were interviewed publicly last year. But he says it’s not going to be easy to replace Hanson.
We need to make sure that when the time comes, it’s done correctly and done with the voice of the community.
FUSD Trustee Christopher De La Cerda
“We need to make sure that when the time comes, it’s done correctly and done with the voice of the community,” De La Cerda said.
“But it’s going to be a bit of a task to find someone to come in who’s willing to continue the work that’s already been put in progress on behalf of our students. My hope is the next superintendent will continue the progress and the work and the successes that we’ve had with our current superintendent.”
New trustee Claudia Cazares says she would like for local candidates to be considered.
“I would probably start local first. I tend to value more somebody that has a deep-rooted sense of what the Valley’s needs are: it’s very unique circumstances we have here, economically and culturally,” she said. “I value roots.”
Cazares says she, too, wants community input, but is apprehensive about how public the hiring process should be.
“I don’t know how far we want to take that,” she said. “We definitely want to have a lot of transparency and make sure that’s key. We want to bring our community along.”
Trustee Cal Johnson said the board hasn’t talked at all about recruitment, but said his criteria for the next superintendent are simple.
“I’m thinking about the most qualified individual for the district to continue on the path of dealing with all of our students and promoting excellent education,” he said.
The board will meet for its regular meeting Wednesday.