The campaign for Fresno Unified’s trustee seat representing the McLane High School area appears to be a classic matchup.
Incumbent Christopher De La Cerda has served six years on the board: two as the appointed replacement for a trustee who resigned and four more after winning a full term without an opponent.
He comes into the Nov. 6 election with the backing of several Fresno City Council members and fellow board members Lindsay Cal Johnson and Valerie Davis.
Now he’s being challenged by Veva Islas, who as program director of Cultiva La Salud, a public health initiative in the Valley, has her ear to the ground on challenges facing impoverished families. She, too, has received an influential union endorsement — that of the Fresno Teachers Association.
Interviews with the candidates suggest that improving educational equity and college and career readiness are among the top issues.
Area 4 Profiles
Christopher De La Cerda
Christopher De La Cerda was born and raised in Fresno with his nine siblings.
He graduated from Bullard High School, Fresno City College, and Fresno State.
Before being appointed to the school board in 2012 as a replacement for Tony Vang, a Fresno State professor who was mired in a controversy about his residency, De La Cerda was a special education teacher in Fresno Unified. He resigned after 34 years to focus his attention on his role as a trustee.
De La Cerda says he has accomplished a lot during his time on the board.
He has been involved in expanding the district’s dual immersion program to include Hmong, getting a student-run Union Bank branch on McLane’s campus as part of the school’s financial pathway curriculum, and increasing Career Technical Education programs.
De La Cerda has received endorsements from many political figures and organizations, including the Service Employees International Union, and Fresno City Councilmembers Esmeralda Soria, Luis Chavez, and Paul Caprioglio.
The primary reason he says he is running for re-election is to continue to improve Fresno Unified and help students reach their educational and career goals.
“The equity factor in our district is really what drives me because once we address the equity issue and reach that equitability factor where it is distributed across the district, then kids will be able to learn across the board,” De La Cerda said.
In addition to emphasizing increased safety for students and teachers, better graduation and college-going rates, and reduced pupils-per-teacher ratios, De La Cerda said he wants to establish more health clinics on campuses.
In early 2017, Fresno Unified announced plans to open six new school-based health centers. The first one was built at Gaston Middle School and a second is opening at Addams Elementary School.
“Education for us in Fresno is changing,” De La Cerda said. “It is no longer just trying to get students in a classroom and out of the classroom. It is making sure that we are addressing health issues, physical needs, and their social-emotional needs.”
Islas was born and raised primarily in Fresno to farmworker parents.
Among her three siblings, Islas is the first to graduate from college and holds degrees from Fresno State and Loma Linda University.
Even though she was defeated in her race for a seat on the Fresno City Council earlier this year, Islas said her motivation to serve residents didn’t end.
“I decided this could be a place where I could use my voice and my vote to help make a difference in my community,” Islas said of her decision to run for the school board.
She also has endorsements from the Central Labor Council, the National Women’s Political Caucus, and Carpenters Local 701.
Islas said she would make an exceptional trustee because of her ability to relate to families in the McLane area.
“I think there are many families similar to my immigrant family that live in the McLane Region, and they are depending on somebody in that position who understands their challenges,” said Islas, who learned English as a second language.
After talking with area parents, Islas said the main issues they are concerned about are better special education services, ensuring that all students who graduate high school are college and career ready, and school bullying.
Islas said that parents are especially upset with transportation for special-needs students. District buses are inconsistent and regularly late in the mornings, which causes parents to have to take their children to school.
“It affects parents because they aren’t able to get to work on time,” Islas said.
In regard to school bullying, Islas said she plans to better inform parents about resources that are available to their children. She wants to create a system where parents can submit complaints and see issues more quickly resolved.
Islas said she is also eager to improve the percentage of college- and career-ready graduates.
“All of our efforts should really be about making sure that by the time our students get to graduation that they are going to be able to make that transition to higher education with ease or pursue employment opportunities and be successful,” she said.