by David Taub
Over the past few weeks, leaders at University High School in Fresno worked much harder than expected to ensure the future of their award-wining school. Their charter needed to be renewed, and the process was anything but simple. School board members expressed doubt. The district administration balked at providing full-throated support.
Then just like that at Wednesday’s meeting, the Fresno Unified school board unanimously (6-0) approved the charter renewal for another five years. The school and district agreed to work together to iron out any issues over future admission standards and the application process.
While UHS agreed to drop its math pre-requisite in light of a negative ACLU report over the summer, it will keep its music requirement. The UHS school board last week, though, agreed to study the issue.
The district, in a presentation before the vote by charter office manager Debra Odom, acknowledged that University has met all its goals as a successful charter school. It has high test scores, a number of successful Advanced Placement tests and 97% of the students enroll in a post-secondary opportunity.
Trustee Janet Ryan, who is retiring in a few weeks, decried why renewing the charter was such an acrimonious process. “All of the turmoil, I don’t know exactly how it got started. All of the angst was for naught. Because, I don’t see any reason that we would not be renewing this charter. It is one of the finest things we’ve done here in Fresno.”
Christopher De La Cerda renewed his concerns about the accessibility of UHS. “Knowing that you are continuing to work with us, and that we will continue to work with you and addressing those issues is something I think is a wonderful positive…Increasing that accessibility will also increase diversity”
De La Carda pointed out to exemptions from the school’s lottery system for musicians who play a specific instrument as something that needs to be examined.
Trustee Brooke Ashjian supported UHS from the start. He wished other schools in the district would emulate UHS’s success. “I would hope that we could use the same scrutiny that we are putting on University High and put back on our own high schools, I think we can be a better place. “ The audience then burst out in applause.
Cal Johnson, who criticized the lack of racial diversity of UHS in the past, was not present at the meeting, thus did not vote.
Dr. James Bushman, UHS’ Head of School (principal) addressed the board. He welcomed a more diverse applicant pool. “There is no reason that students who are poor or low economic means should not be coming to our school in greater numbers than they do.”
The renewal runs from 2017-22.[check back for video highlights of the meeting]