New Fresno Trustee Plans to Hit the Ground Running with ‘School Walks’
Newly elected Fresno Unified Trustee Susan Wittrup will be sworn into office before Wednesday’s board meeting, but she’s already been working on a detailed plan to focus on needed instructional and facilities improvements for students and schools in the Bullard region, and to connect regularly with schools’ parent leaders.
That plan includes taking instructional and facilities “walks” at each of the 14 schools in the Bullard region, starting with Bullard High School on Dec. 19.
As a longtime Fresno Unified employee who retired last year as a school psychologist, Wittrup has insights into how Fresno Unified operates that she says will give her a firm foundation as a district policymaker.
But Wittrup said she also will depend on ongoing support, hearing from parents on a regular basis and being assisted by community volunteers who can help pinpoint problems in schools.
Target Unhealthy Conditions
She’s already found some — in October Wittrup posted on her Facebook page photos inside a Bullard High locker room and bathroom of black mold, cracked plaster, and peeling paint.
Taking care of problems that pose a risk to students’ health needs to happen immediately and not be relegated to a multi-year facilities improvement plan, she said.
“That needs to be immediate. I mean, restaurants get closed down (for black mold), and so we need to look at schools in the same way. We have to, at least at the very minimum, follow the health code.
“Our most basic obligation is to keep kids safe, our most basic. So, yes, that’s why I’ve asked for the facility walks at every school.”
The long-sought security fence around Bullard High School, the only high school in the district without such a fence, also will be high on Wittrup’s priority list, she said.
Wittrup also plans to take “instruction/special education” walks at each school to get a firsthand look at how students are learning.
“I want to start with elementary schools during reading instruction. Because that’s a big concern, is how our students are doing with learning to read. It really opens the door for everything, the rest of the things that they do in life,” she said. “And I believe that the learning curve that we use for walking and talking should be the same for reading. Kids that can walk and talk can learn to read. And we need to get to the roots of why that’s not happening.”
According to the 2021 Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments, only 32% of Fresno Unified students who were tested were at or above grade level in reading and only 21% were at or above grade level in math.
Fresno Unified needs a progress monitoring assessment that gives teachers and parents information in real time on how students are learning and where they are struggling, Wittrup said.
And the district also needs to invest more in reading intervention specialists who are assigned to help students individually, instead of assigning all struggling students to special education assessments, she said.
“So our special education resources get taxed with kids who really don’t need that. And we miss a lot of kids who are really more of the priority for special education evaluation,” she said. “And we have a whole group of kids that we don’t help them get ahead and they fall farther and farther behind.”
In the 18 months she was on the campaign trail, Wittrup said she heard from many residents that they want accountability from the district as well as being able to be proud of their schools. To continue those community discussions, she said she wants to start up a “Presidents Club,” welcoming the heads of PTAs and other parent groups to meet with her on a monthly basis.
Those meetings will provide a venue “to connect with parents, to share things that are going on, to educate them about what’s coming down the pike or things that I see that they need to know about, and to hear them and their concerns, their ideas, I mean, it’s not all negative. They may have ideas to that that we need to really listen to to to improve our schools, that’s not (possible) at a board meeting format.
“Walking neighborhoods during the campaign was one of the most beneficial things I feel like I’ve ever done, to actually hear from people in their home, on their front porches. And this is kind of my way to continue doing that.”