Political Notebook

Two Fresno Unified employees jump into school board race

Two political newcomers and a veteran candidate have jumped into the Fresno Unified school board race, one looking to unseat Trustee Cal Johnson, one facing off against Brooke Ashjian for the open Bullard High School-area seat and the third taking on incumbent Valerie Davis.

Christian Flemming, 42, is an assistant football coach and aide at Bullard High who has filed in the southwest Fresno area race against Johnson and businesswoman Debbie Darden. The father of two says he'd support smaller class sizes and more career technical education funding if he's elected.

Flemming, a Madera native and Bullard High graduate, says he's also looking to shrink the achievement gap and give southwest Fresno a strong voice on the school board.

He'll draw from years of experience working with teens at both Edison and Bullard high schools, he said.

"I'm not a politician, I don't have an easy fix for high dropout rates," he said. "What I am is a father, a coach, a school assistant. I've spent many hours counseling at-risk kids from Edison and Bullard."

Flemming made his first public appearance as a candidate in late July, when he attended a media event in support of Rev. Karen Crozier and others with concerns about a teacher hired to work at the new Rutherford B. Gaston Middle School.

Crozier recently criticized the district's hiring of a white male teacher who will lead cultural studies classes at Gaston. That in turn led others to call Crozier a racist.

He still supports Crozier, he said, adding, "I seriously do not believe she's a racist." He acknowledged he had little information at the time about the teacher in question, Peter Beck, and has since learned about his qualifications.

"I believe that the issue for me isn't black or white, I don't believe it's a race issue, I don't believe it's a Peter Beck issue. I believe it's a Fresno Unified School District issue," he said. Graduating more students of color and encouraging them to pursue teaching is one of his goals, Flemming said.

Ruben Martinez, 32, has filed to run against businessman Brooke Ashjian in the race for the spot being vacated by Trustee Michelle Asadoorian.

Martinez is a substitute food-service employee who's worked in cafeterias at several Fresno Unified schools. His two daughters attend Gibson Elementary.

Martinez thinks the district lacks leadership and accountability at many of its schools.

He's just beginning to organize his campaign, Martinez said, and expects to launch a campaign website later this month. He'll also take to the streets, he said, and "go back to the old school campaign, probably within the next week, canvassing, doing a lot of walking, getting my shoes worn out."

Meanwhile, Esmeralda Diaz -- who has twice lost in races for the Roosevelt High area seat -- is running against Board President Davis, who represents the Sunnyside High area.

Diaz ran in both 2008 and 2012 -- last time, losing against Trustee Luis Chavez. On her most recent go-round, she was supported by both the Fresno Teachers Association and the outgoing board member, Larry Moore.

The mother of two is a retired physician. She did not immediately return phone messages left by The Bee on Friday.

Friday was the final day for candidates to file in the school board race.