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Opinion
Misty Her Might Be Best Superintendent Candidate. But Fresno Unified Still Needs a Statewide Search.
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By Bill McEwen, News Director
Published 4 weeks ago on
March 19, 2024

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It’s well-documented that finding a superintendent for large California school districts has become a Herculean task — even with fabulous pay and benefits.

Bill McEwen Portrait

Bill McEwen

Opinion

There are so many headaches beyond a superintendent’s control and the job is so complicated that many are retiring, just as Bob Nelson did at Fresno Unified.

However, Fresno Unified would be doing students, their families, and the city a great disservice if it hires a new leader without conducting at least a statewide search.

You’ll never know if there’s an outstanding candidate itching for a big challenge out there. Especially someone who sees the city as a great fit for their family and all it has to offer.

No Fresno Board or Council Faces a Bigger Decision

Understand: Fresno Unified is the key ingredient to the region’s economic future. Local businesses grow when they can hire talented employees. Regional and national companies look for new opportunities based on workforce quality.

That’s why this is the most important decision facing an elected Fresno board or council.

The word circulating out of Fresno Unified is that some, if not a majority, of School Board trustees want to quickly hire Deputy Superintendent Misty Her as Nelson’s successor. Politics likely figures into this as three trustees face November elections, and Her figures to be a popular choice with voters.

Misty Her Portrait

— Fresno Unified Deputy Superintendent Misty Her

Her brings a lot to the table. She is the highest-ranking Hmong K-12 professional in the nation. And, she knows Fresno Unified inside and out, its strengths and its weaknesses. She went to district schools when her family immigrated to Fresno. Altogether, Her has served the district for nearly three decades as a bilingual aide, elementary school teacher, principal, and administrator.

But, choosing the best superintendent for California’s third-largest district — one that has lagged its peers since the 1980s — shouldn’t be based on political expediency or local popularity.

Moreover, rushing to hire Her absent a statewide search could end up being a great disservice to her ability to lead the district.

Any superintendent elected on a split School Board vote begins on shaky ground. Sometimes, boards will revote behind closed doors to present the public a picture of unanimous support. But trustees who have initial reservations about a candidate or the process used to hire the superintendent often are quick to look for reasons to make a change down the line.

Nelson’s goal was to position Fresno Unified so that the next superintendent could fast-track significant improvement in student learning. The pandemic slowed some of the progress Nelson had hoped for, but his tenure was positive for students, teachers, and the city.

Skills Sought for Fresno Unified’s Next Leader

In addition to Nelson’s deep knowledge of education and teaching, the next superintendent must have leadership skills that weren’t in Nelson’s wheelhouse.

Topping the list: the toughness to hold the bureaucracy accountable and replace administrators who aren’t advancing academic achievement and or correctly identifying student and teacher needs.

The new superintendent must also propose budgets that invest in successful initiatives and scrap those failing to make the grade.

Another desired attribute for Nelson’s successor is experience in labor negotiations. The district needs a superintendent who can deal firmly but fairly with its labor unions.

Finally, the ideal superintendent will possess the recruiting skills to bring first-tier administrative and teaching talent to the district.

The School Board owes it to students, families, and Fresno’s future to conduct a statewide search for the best candidate.

That candidate might well be Her, but we won’t know that without a search.

Students and greater Fresno can’t afford the district’s continued failure to make the strides it has promised for decades.

 

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Bill McEwen,
News Director
Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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