Three new members will join the Fresno Unified School Board on Wednesday, and all say improving special education will be among their top priorities.
“That is something that is very high on my list,” said Terry Slatic, who will succeed Brooke Ashjian representing the Bullard High School area.
“Quoting my soon-to-be predecessor, do we really want to be the richest guy in the cemetery?” — Terry Slatic, board member-elect for Area 7
Slatic believes the board should not be content with meeting the minimum requirements for special ed. Instead, he wants to do whatever he can to “exceed the statutory requirements.”
“Quoting my soon-to-be predecessor, do we really want to be the richest guy in the cemetery?” he said.
Slatic and the other new trustees join the board with the district under heat for failing to properly educate and support special needs students.
Last week, the mother of an autistic first-grader took to Facebook to share her emotional pain after the child and his classmates were excluded from a holiday program at Figarden Elementary School in northwest Fresno. Her video had more than 45,000 views as of Friday evening.
Fresno Unified isn’t alone. In a Fresno appearance Friday, Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom said that the quality of special education in California was “deplorable.” And Newsom said that additional funding for special ed would be coming.
Agree With Nelson
Keshia Thomas said she agrees with Superintendent Bob Nelson and other trustees on the need to upgrade programs for special needs students. She said that the $1 million supplemental special education improvement budget passed in November is just a start.
“I am committed to continuing with the board’s mission to transform our special education department at every level,” said Thomas, who will replace Lindsay Cal Johnson to represent the Edison High region.
Thomas said she will review recommendations by the Council of the Great City Schools and talk with teachers and parents to gain a better understanding of the problem.
“I am committed to continuing with the board’s mission to transform our special education department at every level.” — Keshia Thomas, board member-elect for Area 1
“This will help in determining what are the priorities, costs and a timeline,” she said.
Fixing Transportation System
Delays in transporting special education students to and from school is the main concern parents have voiced to Veva Islas.
“The system they depend on is not on time so there are delays,” said Islas, who unseated Christopher De La Cerda to represent the McLane High area. “That creates a burden for parents who are in vulnerable positions to maintain employment due to arriving late to work.”
Being smart with resources is key, Islas said, as she believes “there’s probably never enough money” for special education services.
“We need to make sure we are doing the best we can in managing the resources we have and address clear challenges in the system,” she said.
Putting Students First With Every Decision
Other than special education, Slatic said prioritizing and managing projects better is critical to improving the district.
Slatic cited the remodeling of the district’s high school campuses an an example of poor planning.
“My children have been at Bullard High School since 2009,” Slatic said. “I have not had one of my four children in that 10-year period go to Bullard High School while it was not under construction with its remodel.”
“We need to make sure we are doing the best we can in managing the resources we have and address clear challenges in the system.” — Veva Islas, board member-elect for Area 4
Ensuring students are healthy physically and mentally is essential for Islas.
“I am interested in the procurement of schools meals and opening up school spaces on weekends in neighborhoods that don’t have good parks,” Islas said.
Hiring more psychologists and counselors is also on Islas’ radar going into her first term.
For Thomas, ensuring that the district uses funds in accordance with promises it made to taxpayers is major. Serving students across the district based on authentic needs is also important, she said.
“I will be taking special interest in the needs of underserved, often underrepresented schools and students,” Thomas said. “This includes children of color, immigrant children, children with special needs and children who live in poverty. Equity across the district is very important.”