As the Fresno Unified School District welcomes two new trustees, it is a good time to reflect on our progress and look forward to what’s ahead. When I accepted the appointment as superintendent, the students who are now the Class of 2017 were first-graders.
Having watched students from the vantage points of a parent and superintendent, I can confidently say that Fresno Unified is a better place for our youths today than it was more than 11 years ago.
Fresno Unified’s graduation rate has reached an all-time record of 83.8 percent – a 14 percent increase since 2009. Despite being one of the poorest school districts in the nation, Fresno Unified’s graduation rates exceed the state and nation.
The district also has seen growth in state test scores. In 2016, for the first time in 15 years, scores increased across all grade levels, in all subject areas tested, for all significant student groups. Attendance rates are up, and behaviors leading to suspensions and expulsions are down.
The reasons for this progress stem from the focused and unified commitment of trustees and leaders, teachers, staff, parents and the entire Fresno community.
Our focus sharpened in April 2007 when the team of trustees and district leaders developed and approved a set of core beliefs and commitments, as well as the district goals. The district emerged from the brink of bankruptcy – when the state was considering a takeover – to one of the most financially healthy districts in California, with strong reserves that allowed the district to prioritize students and offer some of the most competitive salaries and benefits in the region.
Through bond measures K and Q, taxpayers have built seven new schools and upgraded and modernized scores of existing classrooms over the past decade. Just take a drive around Fresno, and you will find ample evidence of these investments.
Today, you can see the last of Measure Q dollars building new state-of-the art career technical education classrooms at Duncan Polytechnical High School, which has a 98 percent graduation rate. Last month, the community demonstrated that quality educational facilities are a priority, renewing its confidence in Fresno Unified as a responsible steward of public resources. Measure X passed with 67 percent voter support. Thank you!
Former Mayor Alan Autry described Fresno as the “tale of two cities,” and he was right. Mayor Ashley Swearengin asserts that Fresno Unified schools are outperforming their neighborhoods, and Fresno Unified teachers are defying gravity. She is right.
Our schools are at the intersection of race and social class in our community – and that is the reality. Therefore, our partnerships with the city are essential to student progress, and after speaking with Mayor-elect Lee Brand, I am confident that our valuable relationship will endure.
Many of our students walk onto our campuses from challenging circumstances, and not all students respond to standard educational approaches. While teachers deliver quality instruction and hold students to high expectations, meaningful adult relationships do make the difference.
One of the many stories that demonstrates the power of relationships is told by Cammie Southern, a kindergarten aide at Kratt Elementary. Cammie grew up in foster care, moving from school to school throughout Fresno Unified. Today, this remarkable young woman has completed a college degree and is on her way to earning her teaching credential.
Cammie credits her success to a turning point in her childhood when she attended Lawless Elementary. The vice principal at the time, Carol Badawi, provided Cammie the extra care and support she desperately needed.
Today, in a remarkable turn of events a dozen years later, Carol is the principal at Kratt Elementary, where Cammie works. Cammie says she is now paying it forward by nurturing meaningful relationships with the students at the school.
Stories like these are the wellspring of our progress. It is about adults valuing students and showing them what humanity can be. Our school campuses are places where district and community come together to improve student outcomes while building stronger and healthier youths, families and neighborhoods.
We’ve been doing it together for almost 12 years and have made tremendous strides. With the commitment of all of you, I know this progress will continue.
Michael E. Hanson is superintendent of the Fresno Unified School District. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.