The notion that Fresno Unified School District’s mission is to educate and equip children to succeed as adults was shredded Thursday at Starr Elementary School.

Rather than let Trustee Terry Slatic observe a meeting about how the district intends to improve classrooms for special education students, the district staff told Slatic that if he didn’t leave, the meeting would be canceled.

Portrait of GV Wire News Director/Columnist Bill McEwen

Opinion

Bill McEwen

Slatic didn’t budge, so they left.

There can be only one takeaway from this incident: Job One for those who make six figures and have titles in front of their names at Fresno Unified is self-preservation.

School District Operates Like a Country Club

The last thing they want to deal with is a pain-in-the-ass trustee who doesn’t give a rip if he’s making life uncomfortable for the top brass and their minions.

There can be only one takeaway from this incident: Job One for those who make six figures and have titles in front of their names at Fresno Unified is self-preservation.

The irony of Thursday’s incident is that Slatic pledged to one and all that he would be a good boy. He was there to listen and learn. And he told the powers-that-be he would attend.

Understand: The culture at the top of Fresno Unified is no different than what you find at a country club. They make the rules and if you don’t like it, find another sandbox to play in.

In this particular instance, they used “the rules” to justify canceling the meeting.

This is not a trustee’s business until the information is presented to the entire board. That’s the rule, the district said.

Nation’s Report Card Documents the Failures

I’d like to know how that rule — or all the others designed to keep the trustees and the public in the dark, and to protect the bureaucracy — helps students.

Actually, I do know.

There’s a bit of good news: District fourth-graders are moving toward the middle of the pack in reading and math. But for district eighth-graders, the results — sorry, there’s no other way to put it — are tragic.

Go to The Nation’s Report Card at this link and see for yourself. The last time I wrote about how Fresno Unified fared among the country’s big-city school districts was in 2017.

“When you are the nation’s second-lowest performing large urban school district in grades 4 and 8, it’s best not to repeat the mistakes that got you there in the first place,” I opined.

Two years later, there’s a bit of good news: District fourth-graders are moving toward the middle of the pack in reading and math.

But for district eighth-graders, the results — sorry, there’s no other way to put it — are tragic.

In math, the scores continue to decline and, in reading, there has been scant progress. The only worse districts are Cleveland and Detroit.

What Is the Brass Afraid Of?

Who’s responsible?

The buck stops at the top with the Board of Trustees and high-ranking administrators more interested in keeping their titles or salaries than embracing difficult changes and new ways of thinking to better educate children.

In the big picture, the cancelation of the meeting wouldn’t be worth a mention — except that it’s so telling about what ails Fresno Unified.

If I was in charge of facilities at Fresno Unified, I would have relished having Slatic in the room. I would have told him to hit me with his best shot. And then I would have shown him how the district planned to help special-education students with classroom upgrades. Someone could have said, “We did a fantastic job remodeling Rata High, and we’ll do the same at Starr.”

It’s best to face skeptics and critics head-on. Running away merely perpetuates the perception you have no idea what you’re doing.

Apparently, those in charge feared coming up short. Or were ordered by Superintendent Bob Nelson to freeze Slatic out.

Slatic Has Made Mistakes, but This Wasn’t One of Them

In his brief time on the board, Slatic already has done things I’d never do.

He made the mistake of trying to change the district’s culture on Day One without first trying to understand the culture. He needs to cut that long list of things he wants to look into by about 90% and focus on the most important changes that will help students. Slatic should be more respectful of the staff.  Certainly, there are people to whom he owes apologies.

But no apology is required for attending a meeting about an important situation in his region.

Winning Turf Wars or Helping Kids?

In politics, we call the Starr fiasco a turf war.

For the past 50 years, those leading Fresno Unified have won 100% of the turf wars.

All the while losing on most fronts in the battle to help more children thrive.

7 Responses

  1. B.P.

    So you just completely ignore the utterly egregious incident where Slatic showed his violent, bully colors by laying hands on a student on campus? If you are going to talk about his “mistakes,” but fail to mention that one, then you have no business being a journalist. Your omission amounts to a normalization of outrageous and unacceptable behavior, and you should be ashamed.

    Reply
  2. Laura

    It’s about time someone shakes things up at FUSD. It most certainly is a Trustees business, that’s what they are their for! It’s too late for my kids who are grown and gone from FUSD and the Bullard Pyramid, but hopefully change for the better will come from having more people like Slatic who are there for the right reasons and are not intimidated by the atmosphere of being a part of the ‘country club’!

    Reply
  3. Cyndy Quintana

    Have you ever personally talked with those people with “titles” in front of their names? Do you know how hard they work on behalf of Fresno’s children? Do you have any idea what they give up of their personal lives to keep Fresno Unified moving? What have you done to support their work? Have you ever investigated how FTA has historically blocked innovation by protecting teachers from having to change practice? Do you know how hard teachers work everyday of the week? How have you supported the “Black Crisis” in Fresno to help students? What happened after the article came out earlier this year to help our AA population improve living/working conditions in Fresno? It is easy to condemn, hard to actually make change. What will you do to help improve education and the lives of students in the Fresno community? Action is hard, words are easy.

    Reply
  4. Daniel

    I think the problem is above the district level and is to be placed on our state legislators who deem California a sanctuary, as an agricultural center it shows in our schools test scores!

    Reply
  5. Jack

    You played a major role when the Bee made their School Board candidate endorsements, Bill. They wasted several months trying to get rid of Hanson, but then hired his chief of staff as Superintendent. The same cast of characters were there then and are still there. How come you didn’t notice and report on this? This board has sat on its hands and said nothing about the fact middle school math is in the toilet while suspension rates are significantly lower. How can THAT be explained?

    Reply
  6. Wayne Steffen

    I see no problem with a committee assigned to come up with recommendations to a board or CEO not wanting that executive or a representative at the meeting when they’re still working on the proposals. I’ve been in those situations and having that executive present does chill what should be an open discussion. Smart board members and CEOs know that and stay away. For ex-military, trustee Slatic does not seem to understand or respect chain of command. And for someone who once boasted of good relationships he had with people he was working with in a foreign land, he seems not interested at all in building relationships at home.

    Reply

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