It’s no secret that the Fresno Unified School District board of trustees became bitterly divided during the final years of Michael Hanson’s long tenure as superintendent.
Important issues often were decided by split votes as the board divided into pro-Hanson and anti-Hanson factions. Hanson, despite his many strengths, contributed to the corrosive atmosphere by withholding information from trustees he deemed opponents and favoring those loyal to him.
Indeed, Hanson’s termination in late January seven months ahead of his previously announced exit came on a 4-2 vote in closed session, with Trustee Cal Johnson absent.
Our hope going forward was the board could heal old wounds, treat each other with respect, make a conscious effort to listen to the goals and concerns of each trustee, and not assign negative motives to trustees and citizens with differing views.
We believe that meeting this standard of professional conduct will be especially important as the board – arm-in-arm with teachers, staff and community members – goes about hiring Hanson’s successor.
Remember: The interview process is a two-way street. It would be detrimental to our community and our children if top candidates pull out of the running because they are turned off by a warring board and divided community.
Last week’s unanimous decision to hire acting superintendent Bob Nelson as the district’s interim leader while the search goes on for a permanent superintendent is an encouraging sign that the board is coming together.
Heading into the Feb. 15 special board meeting, several of the trustees had candidates that they preferred for the interim position. Instead of playing hardball and making the hire on a split vote, the board came to a belief that the interim leader should be unanimously appointed.
Nelson, who has worked for Fresno Unified for more than 20 years and previously served as superintendent of Chawanakee Unified in Madera County, said he was shocked by the decision.
So were we. Pleasantly so.
We note, too, that the humble Nelson was an excellent choice. Throughout his career, he has shown that his greatest motivation is educating children.
A tip of the hat goes to Claudia Cázares, Valerie Davis, Christopher De La Cerda, Cal Johnson, Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, Carol Mills and board President Brooke Ashjian for putting aside past disagreements and focusing on moving Fresno Unified forward.
We recognize that there will be times when trustees disagree, and we would never ask a trustee to compromise his or her principles.
We just ask that board members go the extra mile to work out their differences and reach solidarity whenever possible. By doing this, they will distinguish Fresno Unified as a district with strong board leadership.