Fresno Unified leadership got its report card this week, earning high marks for community relations and policy development, but low scores for working as a team.
The Board of Trustees’ self-evaluation for 2017-18 is the first such report the board has done since the 2014-2015 school year. Trustees were asked to rate their strengths and weaknesses as a group and as individuals, through 75 questions in 12 categories, on a scale of 1 to 5.
The board gave itself a 4.83 for following up on citizen concerns and a 4.5 for the quality of the education program the district provides. Trustees also gave themselves as individuals high marks across all categories.
But questions relating to communication between board members had some of the lowest overall scores. The board got a 1.67 for communication among board members that is “honest and free from distrust and cover-up.”
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The board operating “openly, with trust and integrity” got a 1.83 overall.
The report also included suggestions for improvement, like needing “more dignified governance practices, less personality-based discussions,” and learning to “accept disagreement as normal.”
The results were presented at Wednesday’s board meeting by Mary Egan, an independent facilitator from Municipal Resource Group. Egan said that it’s common for governing organizations to struggle to self-evaluate, but that the Fresno Unified board is doing better than most.
“It takes some discipline to talk about your own conduct,” Egan said. “Not all elected bodies are willing to do this work.”
The board will meet again to discuss the results of the evaluation, but it may be an entirely different board that meets: four seats are up for re-election in November. Egan said much of the substantive work will be done with the new board.
“A board of trustees is a relationship, and magic happens when they can work cohesively,” Egan said.
Egan said she’s not sure why the board took a hiatus from doing the report for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, but suggested that turnover in the superintendent position may have been part of the reason. Board president Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, who took over that position in December 2017, also said she did not know the reason. Trustee Brooke Ashjian, who was president of the board from 2016-17, did not respond to a request for comment.
This year was the first year the board polled cabinet members about the trustees’ performance. The cabinet rated trustees higher than they rated themselves, except for a few notable categories, such as meetings being “confined to a reasonable length.”
Rosas said she found it interesting that the cabinet’s assessment wasn’t too far off from the board’s assessment, as it points to everyone being on the same page.
“I think doing a review is just good governance,” she said. “As we evaluate the superintendent every year, we should look at our own performance as well.
How did the superintendent do?
Superintendent Bob Nelson wrapped up his first full year on the job to a unanimously positive evaluation from the board.
“I’m just a figurehead who tweets a lot of things, apparently,” Nelson said. “My sincere thanks.”
Nelson took over the position after the ouster of former superintendent Michael Hanson in January 2017. Nelson has overseen a tumultuous year-and-a-half that included the possibility of a Fresno Teachers Association strike, an ongoing federal investigation and calls for the resignation of Ashjian.
In a meeting with The Bee’s editorial board earlier this summer, Nelson gave himself a B-minus grade for his first year.
Fresno Teachers Association president Manuel Bonilla said Nelson had put in the work to receive a positive evaluation.
“His first year was defined by his ability to listen and engage in sometimes difficult conversations,” Bonilla said. “His second, and subsequent years, will be defined by his ability to provide vision, build capacity, and support educators in meeting the needs of our 74,000 students.”
Nelson also earned praise from district teachers earlier this week. The FTA asked its members on social media to chime in on the superintendent’s performance, with most comments commending his work.
“His positive vibe and commitment to connecting with campus and staff is very encouraging!” Joshua Salven wrote. “Plus he plays a mean ukulele.”