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Does Spending Dollars on Tutoring Make Sense If Fresno Unified Doesn't Track Results?
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 10 months ago on
June 16, 2023

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Hey parents, School Zone has got a question for you: if you were spending your family’s hard-earned money on a tutor to help your kids with their studies, you’d check and make sure that their grades were going up, right?

Want to check out earlier School Zone columns and other education news stories? You’ll find them at Nancy Price’s School Zone Facebook page.

Not so much for Fresno Unified, however.

The school district has spent tens of thousands of dollars on Tutor.com, an online program that makes tutors available to students at all hours and in many subjects. But so far there’s been no data to show whether the district is getting any bang for its buck.

The program launched in October 2020 and initially was intended to support students who were attending school virtually during the pandemic and struggling with their studies.

The original contract was $280,000 for 10,000 tutoring hours. The district used COVID relief funds to cover the cost.

It was later extended and expanded for students seeking homework help after the schools reopened, and now is part of the district’s burgeoning Literacy Initiative.


Also in School Zone: 

  • Clovis Unified bids a fond and heartfelt farewell to its superintendent.
  • New transportation director at Fresno Unified is a familiar face.

Limited Data on Hand

Under the contract, Tutor.com reports to the district how many students have used tutors, how many hours of tutoring were used, the subjects requested, and student feedback from surveys. Students can use their district Clever account to create a Tutor.com account.

 

“We need to have the data, the individual student data usage, to be able to gather ourselves, whether or not Tutor.com is actually useful for our students.” — Fresno Unified Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas

But up to now, Tutor.com hasn’t collected or reported on student usage by individually identifying students, other than verifying that the students have accounts paid by the district. It would be possible to ID students through their emails and then match that to their student information system, which would include their grades.

Tutor.com is asking the district to join in a study, conducted by a third-party research firm, LearnPlatform, to discover whether the online tutoring is improving students’ academic outcomes.

For years, Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas has been beating the drum for the district to better assess which programs are having more success and which less so trustees can make better ROI (return on investment) decisions. At Wednesday’s board meeting she said she fully supports the research study proposal, so long as Fresno Unified can have access to the results.

“We need to have the data, the individual student data usage, to be able to gather ourselves, whether or not Tutor.com is actually useful for our students, if it’s getting the desired outcomes, and not just how many hours students are using it, but is it actually having an effect on grades,” she said. “Because we can assign hours and kids can spend hours in front of it and that’s great. But it’s not great if the kids aren’t actually progressing with it. And that’s what we don’t know as of current.”

She said she wanted the district to get Tutor.com’s agreement to share the data before proceeding with the study. There was no initial response from the administration.

Clovis Trustees Praise Departing Superintendent

The closing of Wedneday’s Clovis Unified School Board was an emotional moment for the trustees and outgoing Superintendent Eimear O’Brien, the district’s superintendent since 2017 who is retiring to return to her homeland of Ireland to care for her aging mother and be closer to her family.

After reading a resolution citing many of the highlights of O’Brien’s tenure, which included the rocky years during the pandemic, the trustees got personal.

Departing Clovis Unified Superintendent Eimear O’Brien, pictured here in October 2022, bade farewell to district trustees on Wednesday night in a meeting that at times turned emotional. O’Brien is returning to Ireland to care for her aging mother and be closer to her family. (GV Wire/Jahziel Tello)

Trustee Yolanda Moore, who was elected to her first term in 2020, recalled a phone call with O’Brien when she was considering running for the board. While she felt in her heart that she was meant to serve on the board, Moore acknowledged that she was “terrified.”

“In a calm sweet voice you called my name, ‘Yolanda,’ and said, ‘The world needs brave people.’ Now, I don’t know if that advice was unique to me, but that’s all I needed to hear,” Moore said. “I went down that moment after we got off the phone and filed my papers. And so it just kind of speaks to who you are as a person. Because you just have that ability … to make people feel warm and fuzzy and like they can take on the world.”

Board President David DeFrank, who also was elected in 2020 to his first term, recalled O’Brien’s advocacy for reopening schools during the pandemic, which he said was so critical to students, especially his kindergarten-age daughter.

“Lastly, I want to thank you as a friend, and thank you for teaching me about optimism. Thank you for caring about my family. Thank you for teaching me about growing and nurturing relationships. You make it a point to end every conversation on a positive note, no matter how difficult that probably is in the moment,” DeFrank said. “And I know I’ve given you some of those moments, I’m sure, and thank you for teaching me about wanting the best for people and helping them grow, even when all I want to do is focus on their flaws. I’m a better person for having known you.”

When it was her turn, O’Brien focused on the team that is Clovis Unified and how she could not have succeeded without its support. The district continues to follow the core values and legacy established by its founding superintendent, Dr. Floyd “Doc” Buchanan, she said.

“We are probably the last bastion of a district that really, really does center every focus on what’s best for our kids. And I think that that’s the charge for the next chapter, is for Corinne (Fulmer, the incoming superintendent) and the team to really work collaboratively with you and future boards too, and to really hold on to those core values. I think protecting that legacy is what Doc would have wanted us to do. He was very unique and to think that 63 years later, we’re still quoting him.”

And if you’re planning a trip to Ireland, O’Brien said, give her a call — she’s not changing her phone number.

FUSD Names New Transportation Director

Fresno Unified’s busing system, which struggled during the school year with too-few drivers, late-arriving students, and other problems, now has a new director. Paul Rosecrans was unanimously approved Wednesday by the School Board to the position.

His promotion comes seven months after returning to the district, which he left a few years ago in the midst of a controversy over the district’s fresh produce contracts. Rosecrans was executive director of purchasing when a Fresno vendor claimed that a competitor had underbid him on supplying fresh fruit and vegetables and then jacked up costs on invoices that the district paid out.

David Miller, then owner of Fresno Produce Co., had estimated that Fresno Unified overpaid his competitor, 1st Quality Produce. Miller’s complaint prompted an audit commissioned by the district and an investigation by the USDA. The results of the USDA probe are unknown, but the district’s audit found that 1st Quality was paid nearly $4.9 million over three years for produce that cost more than the original bid or wasn’t even on the bid list.

The district noted that the payments had been approved by the USDA, which provides funding for the produce program, and that it had subsequently tightened purchasing rules.

But several managers associated with the purchasing department either resigned or retired, including Rosecrans, who left after almost 13 years on the FUSD payroll in May 2019. According to his LinkedIn profile,Rosecrans headed to Natomas Unified School District, where he worked six months as director of maintenance and operations. He returned to Fresno in May 2021 to be a buyer at State Center Community College District, and in October 2022 he returned to Fresno Unified as a manager II in the troubled transportation department.

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Nancy Price,
Multimedia Journalist
Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email

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