Hard work as well as teamwork are key to achieving success, whether you’re the state’s 14th largest school district or a girls cross country team at a brand-new high school, Clovis Unified Superintendent Dr. Corinne Folmer said at Thursday’s 2023 State of the District Breakfast.
Folmer drew on her personal experience as a founding member of the Buchanan High School girls cross-country team during her inaugural address at the annual gathering, which is a fundraiser for the Foundation for Clovis Schools.
Back in the early 1990s, none of the seven girls on the Buchanan cross-country team had prior experience — Folmer said her sport was soccer, another was a softball player, a third a gymnast — but all of them were willing to put in the hard work to become the best runners they could be.
Individually they weren’t champions, but when they pulled together as a team they kept getting better, making their way through preliminary events and qualifying for the state finals at Woodward Park, Folmer said. When the race ended, Buchanan’s top five runners were in a tie for first place with Yucaipa High, a Southern California school, so the race’s outcome hinged on the time that the teams’ sixth runners had posted.
“We all had to give our best because we couldn’t know which runner was going to be the difference-maker,” Folmer said. “When Heather saw five of her teammates take the lead, she could have slowed down, knowing that she was no longer in one of those five scoring positions. But she left nothing on the course that day. And because of the entire team’s individual efforts towards — hear me say, one common goal — we succeeded.”
Buchanan won the state title, the first for a girls team from Clovis Unified, she said.
Watch: The superintendent’s full speech
Keeping Standards High
Folmer said the same lessons she learned as a cross-country runner can be applied to Clovis Unified today.
“Every day we are challenged to keep our standards high, we are as a district,” she said. “We’re challenged by a lot of different things out there to keep our standards high. We could look around us and feel that the odds are against us or that the work is too complex. But that isn’t Clovis Unified, it never has been, and it cannot be the standard we set for our students. They deserve our best.
“I said it earlier that we have close to 7,000 employees. On any given day, we don’t know exactly who will be the one, who’s going to be that sixth runner? We don’t know who will be the one that will make a difference for our students. And we all have to run our race as if today is our turn to do so.”
Clovis Unified’s drive for excellence includes in student academic performance, which has not yet bounced back after the pandemic, Folmer said. Although state standardized testing results have not been finalized, it appears that Clovis Unified students only saw a slight increase in math scores and no progress in English language scores, she said.
“What I do know is that our early analysis of the unofficial data that we received is that our students did not grow like we expected them to, and that’s unacceptable,” she said. ” … I also want to be clear that this is not an indication of the work ethic or effort of our incredible educational team. However, we recognize that we need to have a renewed focus on student learning outcomes.”
District Still Growing
Clovis Unified’s enrollment grew by about 600 students this year, increasing the need for expanding school facilities, especially in the southeast part of the district where a new elementary school and new educational center are under construction, Folmer said.
To complete them, the district will likely have to ask taxpayers to approve a new bond measure that will retain current taxing rates and provide future revenues to complete the Terry Bradley Educational Center, which will be the site of Clovis South High School, a middle school, and an elementary school, she said.
The high school is scheduled to open to its first students in the fall of 2025.
Local architect Mike Fennacy, chairman of the Foundation for Clovis Schools, said that since the school district can’t campaign for a bond measure, it’s up to community volunteers such as the foundation to help convince voters to approve it. And it will be needed, he said, partly to help alleviate the enrollment pressures in the Clovis East area, but also to keep other schools in the district in good shape.
Fennacy said he was uncertain how much money was raised by ticket sales and sponsorships of Thursday’s breakfast event at the Clovis Veterans Memorial Building, but he noted that more than 500 people attended.
They included educational leaders such as Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Michele Cantwell-Copher, Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson, and Fresno City College President Robert Pimentel, and Clovis Mayor Lynne Ashbeck.
The entertainment included a performance of “Dragons Love Tacos” by Cedarwood Elementary oral interpretation students and the “Star-Spangled Banner” performed by Buchanan’s chamber choir.
Funds raised through the breakfast event are used to support teacher projects, provide initial funding to new teachers for their classrooms, and scholarships to deserving students in the “Students of Promise” program, Fennacy said.
Foundation director Josh Phanco said the foundation has received a $1 million donation from a family with deep ties to Clovis Unified that has asked for anonymity. Three-fourths of the funds will go directly to the endowment established for the Doc Buchanan Leadership Academy, a leadership development program that’s a partnership between the foundation and district, Phanco said.