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Will FUSD Trustees Look First Only at Internal Candidates in Superintendent Search?
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 4 weeks ago on
March 18, 2024

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The Fresno Unified School Board on Wednesday will talk about whether to initially limit the pool of superintendent candidates to district employees.

The trustees are searching for a new superintendent to replace Bob Nelson.

The School Board will take into account the superintendent characteristics that community members said in listening sessions and an online survey.


Fresno Unified School District trustees are mulling whether to initially consider only internal candidates in their search for the district’s new superintendent or to widen the search to include state and national candidates from the get-go.

The School Board, which meets on Wednesday, will hash that issue out in the closed session that precedes the open meeting.

The trustees are searching for a replacement for Superintendent Bob Nelson, who announced in January that he will leave at the end of July for a faculty position at Fresno State.

The district’s consultant, Leadership Associates, conducted a series of school-based listening sessions and an online survey in February to gather community input on what characteristics the next superintendent should have.

Board president Susan Wittrup and Trustee Veva Islas, who are serving on a superintendent search subcommittee, say they think the board should look at FUSD employees as well as external candidates simultaneously to have a wider pool.

“I think that if we do choose an internal candidate, that adds credibility and strength to her or his superintendency, because they have competed with a range of candidates, not just internal candidates, but other qualified educators,” Wittrup said Monday.

Knowledge of Fresno Unified Important

Islas said the best candidates will have familiarity not only with California’s education system but also Fresno Unified’s challenges and goals, which include improving student literacy.

The community should be confident that the next superintendent, whether that person comes from inside FUSD or elsewhere in the state, will move the district forward, she said. Likewise, an internal candidate should be able to stand up in comparison with other well-qualified, exceptional candidates, Islas said.

“I don’t want anybody in our constituency to feel when this was somebody that was predetermined, pre-selected, and that we just handed the baton to them,” she said. “I do want to be faithful to the idea that in a democracy we create open, transparent processes and people who are qualified can apply, and then we make the final selection.”

Some of the characteristics that the community said in listening sessions that they would like to see in the next superintendent include someone knowledgeable about the Fresno region and experienced in education, Islas said.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a national search. But I do think that it should be at least open to our state and finding somebody who’s a good fit here,” she said. “I’d love to see a woman candidate. I’d love to see a woman of color. As trustees, the more we can create a district that’s reflective of the population, I think that’s on the right track.

“But, you know, in the final analysis, I want someone who’s the best fit and who’s going to really make a change and have a positive impact in our district.”

Advice from Consultants

Board Clerk Valerie Davis, who also is serving on the search subcommittee, says she’s waiting to hear from the consultant Wednesday as to how many qualified candidates the firm has identified as prospective candidates.

“We rely on them to give us some recommendations of who’s out there, or they can tap on the shoulder somebody they think would be a good fit for us, or whatever,” she said. “But we have to take it from our board’s direction on Wednesday when we find out what the job description truly says and how we can best fulfill that for our community.”

Trustee Keshia Thomas said she will advocate looking at local candidates first and then widening the field later because she thinks having local candidates in the mix could be a deterrent for outside prospects even applying.

“Typically what happens is when there’s an internal candidate, external candidates are less likely to apply because they feel that there must be an internal candidate that’s qualified” and who would have an inside track, she said.

Trustee Claudia Cazares said she believes that there are several good potential candidates working for the district who the board could consider, and if the board majority decided to limit the search to those candidates, “I’d be comfortable with that.” If, on the other hand, the board majority opts to widen the search to include external as well as internal candidates, Cazares said she could also support that.

Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosa said she also sees some strong local candidates whom the board could consider, but she hasn’t ruled out a more widespread search.

In the listening sessions and survey, the community said they want the next superintendent to have some “Fresno attributes,” to be able to connect with a diverse community, to have classroom experience and also to have experience with a large urban district like Fresno, the state’s third-largest, she said.

“My actions are guided by what the community indicated that they want,” she said.

Trustee Andy Levine did not respond to a phone call Monday seeking comment.

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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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