In two of the most highly contested educational races in the Valley, candidates from Clovis Unified School District Area 1 and Fresno Unified School District Area 7 share how they plan to improve educational outcomes in their districts if they win election.
In Fresno’s Bullard Area 7, incumbent Terry Slatic is running for his second term against retired school psychologist Susan Wittrup.
In Clovis Unified Area 1, the four candidates vying for the position are communications consultant Samantha Bauer, former Fresno City Councilmember Clint Olivier, Realtor Joanna Burton, and insurance broker Chuck Der Manouel. The seat became vacant in January with the resignation of Trustee Susan Hatmaker.
How Do Area 7 Candidates Hope to Improve Education at FUSD?
After serving 37 years at FUSD as a school psychologist and special education teacher, Wittrup says improving educational outcomes in the district FUSD starts with having a system in place that can assess what works and doesn’t work.
“There are so many ways we can do that from one teacher in the classroom looking at her children’s reading achievement and staying right on top of that to the entire district driving that change, and responding to what’s happening,” said Wittrup.
She likened a thriving school system to a private business making a profit.
“If that profit drops, that business responds immediately to adjust what they’re doing to increase their profit,” said Wittrup. “They’re not going to hang out in the red for very long. We need to have that same attitude about student achievement.”
In addition, she looks to other school districts across the nation who have faced similar challenges as FUSD, but who have been able to turn things around by targeting specific groups that need more attention.
“Their districts work with schools and special populations like special education kids that are learning English, kids in foster care, African-American students,” said Wittrup. “They target and strategically intervene, and support special populations.”
Slatic did not respond Friday to GV Wire’s numerous requests for comment.
How Do Area 1 Candidates Hope to Improve Education at CUSD?
Getting Back to Basics
Bauer, who has been a parent and volunteer in CUSD for 15 years, has an extensive professional background in public education after serving in some of the largest school districts in the state.
Now, she says she’s ready to jump back in and reinvest in neighborhood schools by continuing to build a strong community.
While Clovis Unified schools are often touted as the best in the Valley, Bauer says there are still some key components missing that could help improve education in the district.
“We just had our first round of statewide testing, and while Clovis Unified didn’t fare quite as badly as other school districts up across the state of California, we did see a drop in English language arts and math,” she said.
For Bauer, staying on top of education means going back to basics.
“So the learning loss during the pandemic is real, so we have to lean into that data and figure out how we can get our kids back on track,” she said.
Improving Test Scores and Social Issues
Burton, who has been closely involved in campaigning and fundraising money for school programs, echoes a similar sentiment in recognizing that Clovis Unified schools often do well, but they can always do better.
“Prior to COVID, test scores were not outstanding for Clovis Unified,” said Burton. “The Clovis Unified board seems to just say … ‘Clovis is great, we’re great, everything’s great,’ without really addressing problems head on.”
Burton thinks improving educational outcomes at CUSD means more parental involvement on social issues as well as improving test scores.
“I’m getting really tired of hearing, ‘well, we’re so much better than Fresno,’ but is that really the measuring stick that you want?” she said. “I think that might be part of the problem. If you just want to keep Clovis the same, you won’t even realize there’s a problem.”
Keep Education Thriving Through Life Skills and Funding Streams
Olivier, CEO of BizFed, former TV news reporter and Fresno City Councilmember, is a familiar face in the Valley.
He hopes Clovis Unified schools can maintain their track record for good test scores, but the district also needs to focus more on life skills education.
“The educational outcomes in Clovis, they have already figured it out. Test scores in Clovis Unified are 18% higher than the state average as it is,” said Olivier. “But I think we are seeing a need for life skills education, to talk about how to buy a car, talk about the importance of maintaining good credit, talk about or teach them how to open a bank account.”
In addition, Olivier says improving and maintaining educational outcomes at Clovis Unified means securing funding to bring in the best and brightest educators.
“Hiring the best talent as needed, being creative in terms of securing new funding streams for the district … and working with our state elected officials or federal elected officials to promote Clovis Unified,” said Olivier.
Der Manouel did not respond Friday to GV Wire’s numerous requests for comment.