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With Ashjian Leaving, Who Will Represent Bullard High Area Next?



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To the relief of some, the Bullard High area seat on the Fresno Unified School Board will have a new representative after the Nov. 6 election.
The controversial incumbent Brooke Ashjian, who came under fire last year for his comments toward the LGBT community, announced earlier this year he is not seeking re-election.
Ashjian joined the board after defeating Ruben Martinez in November 2014.
Controversy aside, Ashjian also moved the district forward on several fronts. He focused successfully focused attention on the achievement gap by African American students, championed career technical education and sought better support for special needs students. All of those initiatives saw boosts in funding during Ashjian’s term.
Four candidates — Terri Edwards, Amanda Karabian, Nasreen Johnson, and Terry Slatic — are running to replace him.
In an unusual move, the Fresno Teachers Association has endorsed Edwards, Johnson, and Slatic. Karabian says she wants to be an independent voice and isn’t seeking endorsements.
Interviews with the candidates suggest that better preparing students for college or the workforce, increasing district transparency, and improving accountability among board members are the top issues.

Area 7 Profiles

Terri Edwards

Edwards was born Washington, D.C. and raised in Fresno with her brother.
She graduated from Hoover High School and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Fresno State.
Edwards has worked in Fresno Unified for 25 years as a teacher, vice principal, and principal. She is now an administrator for the district’s Parent University.

Edwards said she has had good experiences as a student in Fresno Unified and wants other students to have them, too.

“As a board member, I want to ensure our kids are getting all that they need to become the leaders of our next generation.” — Terri Edwards, candidate for Area 7 trustee
“As a board member, I want to ensure our kids are getting all that they need to become the leaders of our next generation,” Edwards said.
The way to do that, Edwards said, is for board members to practice internal accountability.
“We need to look inward in order to produce what we want outward,” Edwards said. “It all starts at the top. If we are not doing it at the top, then it doesn’t come down to where the kids are.”
In terms of improving student achievement, Edwards is certain that culturally relevant teaching will help.
That style of teaching requires teachers to instruct in a cross-cultural or multicultural setting to enable students to relate course content to his or her cultural context.
“I really want to make sure we are implementing that initiative correctly,” Edwards said.
Continuing to look at procedures and policies such as the district’s African American Academic Acceleration Program is also imperative, said Edwards, who is endorsed by FTA and the California School Employees Association, among others.
Collaboration with stakeholders affected by school board decisions is also critical to improving the district, Edwards said.
“I want to make sure we have everyone at the table when we talk about an issue,” Edwards said. “I want to hear students’ voice, what they are talking about, and how they feel when they are in school.”

Amanda Karabian

Karabian was born and raised in Oakland with her sister.
She graduated from Alameda High School and St. Mary’s College of California.
Karabian’s journey to run for the school board began after she reviewed the candidates. She said she wasn’t impressed.

“I think we need to be a school district that embraces our individual communities and learns about what’s needed in individual school sites.” — Amanda Karabian, candidate for Area 7 trustee
“I didn’t feel they would be able to represent our community, our students in the Bullard region,” said Karabian, who is a full-time mom.
Karabian said her connection to the community makes her the best choice to succeed Ashjian.
“I have two children that go to Bullard region schools, one in general education and one in special education,” Karabian said. “I think that gives me a unique perspective.”
Focusing on finding solutions to problems instead of just talking about them is what Karabian plans to do as board member.
“We need to engage our community to figure out a path to fix our issues,” Karabian said.
Karabian said that reducing class sizes is paramount.
“I believe class size impacts not only students’ ability to learn but teachers’ ability to educate,” Karabian said. “It can also create behavior problems, which can impact safety in the classroom.”
Safety outside of the classroom is another concern. As a board member, Karabian said she plans on continuing to collaborate with school personnel to advocate for positive school communities.
“We have already worked together to bring programs to combat bullying and created a district-wide awareness initiative,” Karabian said.
Establishing a better relationship between board members and the community and ensuring that everyone has a voice is also on Karabian’s agenda.
“We have communities that don’t feel heard, that feel like one community is not like another community,” Karabian said. “I think we need to be a school district that embraces our individual communities and learn about what’s needed in individual school sites.”

Nasreen Johnson

Johnson was born in Spokane, Washington, and moved to Fresno with her sister when she was 7.
She graduated from Hoover High School, Fresno City College, and Fresno Pacific University, where she obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Johnson is a marketing and communications director for Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission.

“As a school board member, not only would I be representing the Bullard region, I would be making decisions on behalf of all of our kids.” — Nasreen Johnson, candidate for Area 7 trustee
Born into poverty, Johnson said she knows the difference that a quality education can make. Her mission, she said, is to ensure every student in Fresno Unified has access to one.
“As a school board member, not only would I be representing the Bullard region, I would be making decisions on behalf of all of our kids,” said Johnson, who is endorsed by FTA and the Service Employees International Union, among other organizations.
Ensuring better communication between board members and parents is one of Johnson’s main goals as a board member.
“When I started attending board meetings, I’m like ‘people aren’t here.’ ” Johnson said. “I’m not sure the families in our district know what an impact can be made by members of the school board.”
Making sure students graduate prepared for college and the workforce is another Johnson objective.
“When you dig into the numbers, 80 percent of our kids in 11th grade aren’t on grade level for math, and 50 percent aren’t on grade level for English,” Johnson said. “That means we are graduating students that don’t have skills to succeed in college or in our businesses.”
Giving teachers freedom in the classroom is one idea Johnson believes can help improve student academic performance.
Our teachers are often frustrated because we are requiring them to teach in a real prescriptive way that takes away their ability to be creative and flexible,” Johnson said. “If we can let our teachers teach again, that will improve our retention for quality educators and ignite the love of learning throughout the district again.”

Terry Slatic

Slatic was born in the New York City borough of Queens, and was raised with his two brothers in New Jersey, Florida, California, and Europe.
He graduated from Troy High School in Fullerton and from Colorado State University, where he was a scholarship football player.
Slatic served two hitches in the U.S. Marine Corps as an infantry officer. The second stint began in 2006 — when Slatic was 46 years old — and he was deployed to the heavy fighting in Fallujah, Iraq.

“My whole perspective is if the accountability and the transparency gets fixed, then everything is going to get better.” — Terry Slatic, candidate for Area 7 trustee
Slatic, who also has been a business executive, said he is running for school board to save the future of Fresno.
“If the 75,000 students at FUSD are not ready to work or go to college after graduation then Fresno is going to suffer,” said Slatic, who is endorsed by FTA, the Charter Schools Association, and Ashjian.
Slatic believes that his military background has given him the leadership skills to steer the Bullard High area to success.
“I’ve proven my leadership capabilities around the world in places that you would never want to see like Afghanistan and Iraq,” Slatic said. 
A lack of transparency and accountability within the district is what motivated Slatic to run for school board.
The district, Slatic said, needs to be more open about what goes on in its schools such as releasing suspension and expulsion rates as well as the frequency of death threats.
“There’s no reason we can’t have that information because that’s what will tell us how things are really going,” Slatic said. “My whole perspective is if the accountability and the transparency gets fixed, then everything is going to get better.”
Student safety is another issue Slatic wants to improve.
From his days keeping military bases from being attacked, Slatic said he knows a lot about safety.
I know everything about video surveillance, about the importance of visual surveillance, and about communication and we are not doing it,” Slatic said.
Changes the district has made have been incremental and largely cosmetic, Slatic said.
“It is like putting lipstick on a pig,” Slatic said. “It looks a little bit prettier, it is fun to talk about, but it doesn’t change a whole lot.”