After unseating incumbent George Wilson Jr. in 2014, Richard Atkins will face off with Shawn Brooks for the Area 4 seat on the Central Unified School Board in the November election.
Atkins ran as part of the “Four Horsemen” slate, which swept incumbents out of the Area 1, 2, 4, and 7 seats.
Ruben Coronado, Cesar Granda, and Rama Dawar were the other winning “Horsemen.” All are running for re-election but not as a slate this time.
Interviews with the candidates suggest that improving student safety and increasing academic performance in the district are among their top issues. Here is a look at both of their campaigns.
Area 4 Profiles
Atkins was born and raised in Fresno with his six siblings.
He graduated from Central Union High School and attended Chapman College and Fresno City College. He is a manager at Leisle Electric Inc. in Fresno.
Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco and Keith Koligian are among his endorsements.
Atkins said he is running for re-election because he believes the board needs his unique, common-sense approach to doing business.
Atkins wants to continue improving student academic achievement, build a new high school, and increase Career Technical Education programs.
In terms of increasing student academic performance, Atkins said his primary concern is raising test scores in English Language Arts and Math.
The district’s ELA scores are at 44 percent and Math at 33 percent in state averages, Atkins said. Atkins said increasing those averages to 50 percent is a good starting point.
“That is the minimum,” Atkins said. “I would rather see us much higher than that.”
Atkins said he also wants to see the district’s 86 percent graduation rate increase.
New High School
With the district’s new high school, Atkins said he just wants to make sure it gets built as planned.
“This community has been promised that high school for 20 years,” Atkins said.
Despite concerns from community members who say there won’t be enough students to sustain the cost of supporting a new school, Atkins believes otherwise.
“I believe if you build the school, the students will come,” Atkins said.
Career Technical Education
Increasing CTE programs, Atkins said, will provide an alternative avenue that students can take to success.
“I feel it was a travesty for the district to disassemble the vocational education classes back in the ’80s,” Atkins said. “It created a major void in the marketplace right now, a marketplace that is needing kids who are willing to work.”
Starting up more CTE programs, Atkins said, will give students an opportunity to explore different career paths.
“For many years, we have pushed our students into telling them that you have to go to college,” Atkins said. “Well, not every child is suited for college.”
Brooks was born in Fowler and raised in Fresno with her three siblings.
She graduated from Fresno High School and the University of Phoenix. Brooks works as an account clerk for the state of California.
The California School Employees Association and Fresno County Democrats endorse Brooks.
Brooks said she is running to provide a new, fresh face on the Central board.
“I am here to serve everybody,” Brooks said. “I am a person that likes to learn and listen to what’s going on.”
With several kids enrolled in the district, Brooks said she has a few concerns she wants to address.
Bridging Communication Gap
Central Unified has the highest concentration of African American students out of all school districts in Fresno. As an African American woman, Brooks says she can serve as a voice for those she believes aren’t being heard.
“I have talked to the black women and they are saying ‘we can’t get anything done because we don’t have a voice,’ ” Brooks said. “They see another black person on the board and they are like ‘now we can do something.’ “
Brooks said she also wants to improve communication between teachers and parents.
“I want to build positive relationships with teachers and parents because sometimes there is a lack,” Brooks said. “Our teachers are our way because they teach our kids so fixing the communication gap there is important.”
Overcrowded Classrooms and School Safety
Classroom crowding is another problem Brooks says is hindering student success.
Brooks said she saw firsthand the excessive number of students in classes while taking her kids on school field trips.
“I have seven kids, the teacher had like 35 kids in her classroom,” Brooks said. “I saw what she had to deal with and thought maybe this is something I can work on.”
Improving school safety is also on Brooks’ radar.
Brooks recalls a time when one of her kids told her that a fight broke out at their school and lasted for several minutes. Brooks says having more security on campus and stronger punishments can prevent such incidents.
“I want to make sure each kid feels safe on and off campus,” Brooks said.
Learn About Area 1 Central Unified Trustee Race
You can read about Jason Paul’s challenge of incumbent Cesar Granda in Area 1 at this link.