Community leaders are calling for Fresno Unified School District trustees to be more transparent about their plans for replacing outgoing Superintendent Michael Hanson, who announced last month he plans to the leave the district this summer.
Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines and former council member Blong Xiong joined organizations like Stone Soup and Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries outside Fresno Unified headquarters on Tuesday, demanding an end to uncertainty surrounding the leadership of the state’s fourth-largest school district.
The news conference came after a closed-session meeting was held by the school board last week, and another such meeting is slated for Wednesday. The agenda says the session will deal with “discipline, dismissal, release, reassignment, resignation” of an employee who is not identified.
Baines said he wants the district to “unify around the public process as quickly as possible” to eliminate what he says is uncertainty and tension surrounding the superintendent search.
It’s very important for the community to have input and a process of civility.
Fresno City Council Member Oliver Baines
“We really are here today to just ensure that the public process is carried on, and to make sure there’s an opportunity for the public to know as quickly as possible what that process is,” Baines said.
School board president Brooke Ashjian said he was not contacted by the leaders of Tuesday’s news conference, and said their concerns are premature because the board has not yet begun to discuss Hanson’s replacement.
“I can tell you this will be the most transparent, diverse group that you’ve ever seen,” Ashjian said of a potential search committee. “They really need to pour some ice on it and just calm down.”
Those at Tuesday’s event said they do not support the Fresno Teachers Association’s calls for the board to oust Hanson before August. They say they’re not interested in an interim superintendent, and are looking for a permanent leader who is selected with help from the public – not based on the preference of school board members.
“What worries us the most is we’re hearing names being out there in the public already. We’re hearing recommendations, and yet the community is not engaged and involved,” Xiong said.
“We just want civility in this process. It’s already complicated enough – the different interests. ... Having this thing go on publicly like this scares the parents and scares us as organizations, because of what it looks like.”
Longtime Fresno activist Venancio Gaona said he is concerned that infighting on the school board will interfere with the superintendent selection process. He wants a nationwide search that taps community leaders for input and includes people of color.
“We should not be ignored as community people,” he said. “This needs to be a representative search committee of this community, not just people liked by a board member or by the Bullard area. Do I speak clearly?”
The Bullard High area is the wealthiest region in the school district and is represented by Ashjian, an adversary of Hanson.