The Fresno Unified school board is putting student discipline, career tech and community engagement at the top of its to-do list for the school year.
In a special meeting with interim superintendent Bob Nelson on Thursday, trustees prioritized the goals, saying a stricter approach to misbehavior in classrooms is a must.
In the past year, teachers have called for the district to move away from its restorative justice program, which frowns upon suspending and expelling students and instead aims to fix students’ issues while keeping them in school.
Critics say the program has been mishandled in the district, and that teachers are dealing with more violent situations because there’s pressure to keep repeat offenders in class.
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“What we hear a lot is (schools) do nothing. We send them to the office, they come back,” school board president Brooke Ashjian said of misbehaving students. “What it does is demoralize the teacher, and pretty soon he or she is like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ We’ve got to get our hands around student behavior and give an expectation of what we’re going to tolerate and what we’re not.”
We’ve got to get our hands around student behavior and give an expectation of what we’re going to tolerate and what we’re not.
FUSD board president Brooke Ashjian
Ashjian received big applause during a public education summit hosted by the Fresno Teachers Association on Tuesday when he said he’d like to implement a “one and done” policy that expels students the first time they get in a physical altercation with a teacher.
Trustee Carol Mills said the district needs more schools like Phoenix Academy, where students with behavioral issues are often sent – but the space is limited.
“Over and over, I’ve heard from schools that they have a student who needs to get to Phoenix, and they can’t because there’s no room,” she said. “We’re tolerating too much in the classroom and it’s too much of a revolving door. They keep coming back and keep acting out.”
The board also discussed upping its career technical courses – a consistent goal for the district.
Trustee Claudia Cazares wants to see better engagement with Fresno’s business leaders in order to create real opportunities for students who pursue trades.
“We need to involve our stakeholders. We need to involve our community members that are willing to come to the table for us,” Cazares said. “We need to open the doors to them because they are inherently vested in having this community succeed.”
We’re tolerating too much in the classroom and it’s too much of a revolving door.
FUSD trustee Carol Mills
Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas cautioned that the district needs to be careful that career tech pathways are not seen as discouraging students from attending college, and that the courses are vigorous.
“We don’t necessarily want our black and brown kids being funneled into trades or into any sort of career path because of stereotypes or because people think they’re not ready,” she said. “I want to be really sensitive to that because I’ve seen it. I think it’s real, and I want to make sure we’re providing all the options and should have high expectations – that we’re not just saying your path is narrow, but you have this path that you can maybe use to get a job to put yourself through college.”
The board also voiced wanting to do better at responding to parent concerns and helping with employee satisfaction.
Ashjian has proposed that board members hire “community liaisons” to help respond to concerns in respective high school regions.
“Let me just put it point blank: We give terrible customer service,” he said. “And that has to change because that rolls downhill into all the other issues. Because if the parents are mad, they’re going to take it out on the teacher. It’s a complete roadblock of frustration for our children and our parents.”
Other goals outlined Thursday include doing more for families with special need students, expanding dual immersion programs and reducing class sizes.