Valley Voices

Cal Johnson and Christopher De La Cerda: Good things are happening in Fresno Unified

Fresno Unified Board President Cal Johnson
Fresno Unified Board President Cal Johnson

For the first time in recent history, Fresno Unified School District reached a historic graduation rate of 81.8 percent. Unfortunately, the efforts of our students, teachers and staff have been overshadowed by the excessive coverage of the district’s use of lease-leaseback construction contracts. It is a state-allowed construction project delivery method that is, understandably, confusing to many.

To be clear, a federal investigation into the district’s practice of awarding these contracts is underway, and we continue to respect the legal process to ensure the complete cooperation by all parties involved. But more importantly, we remain vigilant in addressing the ongoing needs of all our students in the district in an equitable manner.

In this spirit, we want to make sure the community understands the successes of our students, our teachers and our staff. Recently, the Board of Education discussed the District Data Dashboard tool that helps us monitor the effectiveness of the district’s operation. The presentation showed significant gains and successful student progress on a number of fronts including:

▪ Our graduation rates continue to climb, and dropout rates for all students continue to decline. This means more students are leaving our schools as graduates – not as dropouts.

▪ A-G area course completion and college eligibility rates have increased to 47 percent, which means more of our students will have the option to attend the University of California or California State University systems.

▪ English learner students who have been redesignated to English proficient doubled. This is extremely critical for those who are learning English as their second language, given the more rigorous Common Core standards.

▪ District suspension and expulsion rates continue to decrease for the fifth consecutive year. Meanwhile, attendance continues to increase and stand at 95 percent. This is especially important because we cannot teach students who are not at school.

▪ More than 44,000 of our students are involved in athletics, arts and other activities. This helps them become more engaged in school and, in turn, more likely to graduate.

We remain aware of our responsibility to balance our investments prudently throughout the district and to ensure we do not return to the difficult days of fiscal insolvency. We have hired hundreds more teachers, decreased class sizes, extended the class day for our students in 30 schools and were still able to approve a 7 percent compensation increase for our employees.

This is just a snapshot of the work and subsequent success that has been achieved on behalf of and by our students and staff. As trustees, we have been entrusted to do what is best for our 73,000 students. We remain determined to do the right thing for the benefit of our children as we stand firm in our support of them and all of our staff.

We understand that a strong and supportive public education is a proven tool to overcome poverty and leads to lifelong success; we do not take this responsibility lightly. We are aware that in our obligations as trustees, we do not do our work in isolation and we continue to welcome constructive criticism and appreciate the community support that helps us work collaboratively with community members for the betterment of our students, staff and families.

Although there is distance from where we need to be, we are committed to implementing the highest quality education that we can provide for our students, and we are determined to provide an education that will positively impact student lives well beyond their high school graduation.

It is our hope that the public discourse begins to focus on supporting our children’s needs and their achievements.

Cal Johnson, the Area 1 trustee, is president of the FUSD Board of Trustees. Christopher De La Cerda, the Area 4 trustee, is the board clerk.