Editorial: Floyd “Doc” Buchanan made excellence synonymous with Clovis schools

Floyd “Doc” Buchanan, stands in front of the statue depicting him with William McGrady, left, and Sophia Poduska, right, during the dedication ceremony May 24, 2012, at Buchanan High School.
Floyd “Doc” Buchanan, stands in front of the statue depicting him with William McGrady, left, and Sophia Poduska, right, during the dedication ceremony May 24, 2012, at Buchanan High School. Fresno Bee file

Decades before “vision” became a buzz word, Floyd B. “Doc” Buchanan saw a prosperous future for Clovis and the school district that bears the city’s name.

More importantly, Dr. Buchanan had a detailed plan and the force of personality to see that plan carried out. He was both inspirational educator and smooth-talking salesman. And, if needed, he could flex his muscles and play old-fashioned political hardball.

Though Dr. Buchanan retired as Clovis Unified School District superintendent in 1991, ending a 31-year reign, the impact of his accomplishments are very much still with us as we mourn his death.

Dr. Buchanan’s formula for growing Clovis and its schools, hand in hand, centered on competition. Life was a contest and the sooner young people realized that the better off they’d be.

“We believe competition is an ingredient of high standards and an important motivational tool,” Dr. Buchanan told Clovis Unified teachers. “We recognize three levels of competition.

“First we want you to make sure that all of our students learn to compete against themselves; that’s the toughest competition of all.

“Second, we want you to encourage our students to compete in specialty areas to help them build on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses, because that’s the way they get jobs and that’s the way they have to perform in life.

“Third, we want you to teach our students to work in groups and to compete in groups because we think that students who can’t work in groups are going to have trouble in tomorrow’s world.”

That was the magic of Dr. Buchanan. Yes, he could be old school. But he was way ahead of his time in emphasizing the importance of group learning.

Dr. Buchanan believed in accountability, too. Performance was to be measured whether you were a student, teacher or administrator.

And he believed that getting students engaged in athletics and other “co-curricular” activities was the best way to whet their appetite for learning – and keep them out of trouble.

Thus Clovis Unified schools had sports teams with large rosters. Their music and drama departments were big and highly successful. If you didn’t make the cut as a varsity cheerleader, you could be on the flag team or the dance team. The idea was that every student could be part of a team or a program, as long as they kept their grades up and behaved in the classroom.

Dr. Buchanan’s vision was popular with Fresno area families and with developers who gobbled up land for future development in Clovis and in parts of north Fresno that were within Clovis Unified’s boundaries.

The vision became popular with other Valley school districts, some of which set out to become the “next Clovis’ by emphasizing academic and athletic excellence.

Some of metro Fresno’s northward sprawl since the 1970s can be attributed to families fleeing urban decay, but some of it simply was powered by the allure of Clovis Unified School District. It offered comprehensive programs. It was building new, sparkling facilities – including educational complexes with an elementary school, middle school and high school at a single site.

The first such complex was named in honor of Dr. Buchanan in 1990, a month after the Clovis Unified board voted not to offer him a new contract.

Dr. Buchanan’s emphasis on competition and test-taking was controversial and criticized by some education experts. Some families chafed at the rigidity of the “Clovis way.” In the late 1980s, voters began voting out trustees that were longtime supporters of Dr. Buchanan, who had led the effort to unify Clovis schools into one district in 1960 and was the district’s first superintendent.

Simply put, the district had grown too big and too diverse in viewpoints for one person to command it with a larger-than-life personality and an iron fist.

But that messy end to Dr. Buchanan’s long and successful reign is but a footnote of his story.

Back in 1960, Dr. Buchanan saw a bright future for Clovis, a farm and cowboy town of 5,546 people and 2.8 square miles, and he carried the community forward on broad shoulders with smarts and guile and a relentless passion to see youth prosper.