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How Involved Is Southern California Consulting Firm in FUSD Executive Dealings?
gvw_edward_smith
By Edward Smith
Published 2 weeks ago on
March 28, 2024

Leadership Associates has long provided coaching and executive search services to Fresno Unified School District. The same executives oversee contracts with the organization. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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The same consulting firm Fresno Unified paid $40,000 to conduct community listening sessions before its superintendent hire has provided coaching services to many of the district’s top brass — including the top candidate for the position.

After consulting firm Leadership Associates suggested that trustees look internally for candidates, School Board President Susan Wittrup called into question the integrity of having coaching contracts with the top candidates.

“It would be a conflict of interest if they’re promoting those candidates for the superintendent search,” Wittrup said. “If they have an agenda, if that’s their agenda, if these are their people, and they’re promoting their own people. It’s just a question I’m asking.”

It would cost the district $35,000 more to do a statewide search using the same firm, according to Wittrup.

Conversely, when the state’s fourth-largest school district, Long Beach Unified, needed a new superintendent, it conducted its search. Clovis Unified has long done the same.

Leadership Associates Got Contract on Feb. 21. By March, They Were Mostly Done

In the past five fiscal years, the district has issued 25 contracts ranging from executive searches to coaching and leadership development support, according to Nikki Henry, chief communications officer for the district.

On Feb. 21, the board unanimously approved the $40,000 contract with Glendora-based Leadership Associates for 24 listening sessions.

Multiple emails to Leadership Associates went unanswered.

Most were held in the latter part of February, according to Henry.

From those sessions, Leadership Associates presented to board members a page-and-a-half of recommendations, including a preference for an internal candidate to succeed Bob Nelson, whose last day is July 31.

Attendees of sessions at Edison and Bullard high schools say no one wanted an internal candidate and the firm instead pushed the idea of a local hire.

Other sessions were poorly attended, observers said.

“At one listening session, there were so few in attendance that the Leadership Associates staff questioned the young Fresno Bee reporter who was there for a story for her own feedback on the superintendent search,” Wittrup said.

Clovis and Long Beach Conduct Their Own Searches

Before choosing its new superintendent in 2023, Clovis Unified School searched statewide without using a consultant. The district selected Corrine Folmer, previously the assistant superintendent of the Clovis East area.

The search process took eight weeks, according to the CUSD newsletter.

In January 2020, Long Beach Unified School District, just behind FUSD in enrollment, began a statewide search for a new superintendent using its own staff.

They created an advisory committee, held town hall-style meetings, and distributed online surveys, according to the Press-Telegram.

Three months later, trustees selected Jill Baker, the district’s deputy superintendent of schools at the time.

Leadership Associates Contracts

In 2021, the district paid Leadership Associates $42,000 to fill two positions: chief academic officer and chief of staff.

In 2022, the Fresno Unified superintendent’s office paid $15,000 for executive advisement services to deputy superintendent Misty Her from Leadership Associates for the 2022-23 school year. Her is the deputy superintendent and a leading candidate for the permanent position, according to reporting by GV Wire’s Nancy Price.

In that same period, the district paid $38,500 to Leadership Associates through a Wallace Foundation Grant to provide advisement services and facilitate leadership retreats for senior cabinet members.

Ambra O’Connor, executive director at Fresno Unified, was the representative contact for the two proposals. Leadership Associates managed the search that hired O’Connor.

The following year, the district continued the $15,000 contract for Her’s coaching while adding coaching for superintendent Bob Nelson for $30,000.

Another $130,000 to “provide support and executive advisement during the 2023-24 school year” was added. Her was the board contact for her own coaching, while O’Connor was the contact for Nelson’s.

Chief Academic Officer Natasha Baker, who found her position through Leadership Associates, was the point of contact for the general executive advisement item.

One contract went beyond coaching.

The board on Jan. 25, 2023, paid $14,500 for Leadership Associates to provide technical support on the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System — a statewide database that tracks a student’s academic performance, test scores, and disciplinary actions.

Baker was the contact person for that contract.

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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