The start of the new year is a time when many people make resolutions, so it seems somewhat timely that Fresno Unified School District trustees are starting the year with a workshop to set goals for Superintendent Bob Nelson for 2022 and 2023.
Several trustees told GV Wire on Tuesday that they want to prioritize improving student performance, closing the academic gap created by the pandemic, and improving school safety.
The workshop is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Wednesday and will be held in the downtown headquarters board room at Tulare and M streets. Unlike regular and special board meetings, it will not be broadcast or recorded.
Nelson has led the district since February 2017. In November, he received a positive evaluation by the board on a 5-1 vote, with Trustee Terry Slatic casting the lone “no” vote.
According to Transparent California, Nelson made $426,386.00 in pay and benefits in 2020.
Focus on Student Academic Success
The workshop will give the trustees the opportunity to discuss and set priorities, board Clerk Veva Islas said. She said she is interested in goals that will give trustees insight more often and more deeply into student performance and the programs that are helping students achieve the greatest success.
The board has been trying to learn whether programs such as designated schools, where the school day is extended by a half-hour, or programs designed to benefit students who struggle academically such as English language learners, foster and adopted children, and special education students, are having the desired outcomes, Islas said.
The board needs to be able to evaluate the programs to determine whether they should be maintained or recalibrated, or possibly even defunded so that resources can be allocated elsewhere, she said.
“We need more understanding of where we are, where we need to be, what is succeeding to get us where we need to be, and if it’s not succeeding, where do we go,” Islas said.
The drive toward ROI — return on investment — means that Fresno Unified officials will need to take a hard, unemotional look at programs and be prepared to discontinue those that haven’t led to student success, board President Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas said. Designated schools are an example of how district officials have been reluctant to discontinue programs even when the metrics show “we weren’t getting our money’s worth,” she said.
The district needs to drill down and determine what individual students need, and those needs are as diverse as the student population. Some youngsters might need to improve their socialization, others to be physically more active, while others might benefit from group or individual tutoring, she said.
Although the goals are Nelson’s, the ability and willingness of district employees to adapt new programs and shed old ones will determine whether those goals are met, Jonasson Rosas said.
Looking for Learning Gaps
Trustee Valerie Davis said she also wants to prioritize student performance in the goal-setting, and that will mean focusing on where students need the most support and then providing it.
“Do they need more reading, more math, more tutoring?” she said. “Where are the learning gaps, grade by grade, student by student, and how do we best support our kids?”
Davis said she wants to make sure the district focuses on the progress of all kids, including the 4,700 who are on remote learning this year.
Slatic said more transparency — whether it’s about student performance or crimes on campus — is his priority for Nelson’s goals. Slatic said too many people in Fresno have a too-sunny view of the district and student academic performance, which he attributes to Nelson’s “radical positivity.”
Meanwhile, he said, the safety of students and staff is at risk when district officials don’t adequately provide information about campus crimes, especially those involving weapons. Slatic said that the number of students who are on campus and are carrying guns, knives, drugs, and wads of cash from drug deals has skyrocketed.
“You can’t fix a problem until you identify a problem,” he said.
Nelson was not available for comment Tuesday.