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Local Leaders Must Put Their Shoulders Into Making Fresno 'Education City USA'
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By Bill McEwen, News Director
Published 1 month ago on
April 17, 2024

All of Fresno's most pressing problems can be overcome if the city champions a first-rate education for every student regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic circumstances. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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Fresno leaders keep searching for the silver bullet that will make California’s fifth-largest city sparkle.

And they just keep shooting themselves in the foot.

Bill McEwen Portrait

Bill McEwen

Opinion

Over the past three decades, our local governments and nonprofits have spent billions of dollars trying to solve challenges such as gangs, blight, low-paying jobs, and affordable housing.

Unfortunately, their efforts are almost entirely directed at treating the symptoms of Fresno’s most glaring deficiency: an underperforming large public school system that over time has become disengaged from the community it is supposed to serve.

When the day comes that Fresno Unified achieves its long-stated goal of producing young people prepared to succeed in the workforce, college, or both, many of the challenges that frustrate us will fade.

Fresno Unified can’t do this alone. Nor should it be expected to.

Over the past couple of months, the district has screened two fantastic documentaries for the public explaining how to improve literacy. Far too many Fresno Unified students are failing to meet even the basic standards in reading, which is the foundation for success. And, yet, both of the documentaries attracted sparse crowds instead of packing the house.

On Tuesday night at Roosevelt High, there were only 10 members of the public to see the “Hopeville.” Fresno Unified Board President Susan Wittrup was the only trustee there. Superintendent Bob Nelson was the cabinet-level administrator there, but he left before the screening finished.

Mayor Dyer Should Lead the Charge

So, how do district leaders connect better with families to share the transformational potential of a first-rate education? Heaven knows they’ve tried with initiatives such as Parent University.

My answer: Our trusted leaders must commit to turning Fresno into Education City USA.

And Mayor Jerry Dyer should lead the charge.

He’s got the bully pulpit and a mandate after winning re-election with 80% of the vote.

Yes, he’s got a busy schedule. But his “One Fresno” mantra rings hollow when more than three-quarters of Black students and two-thirds of Hispanic students in Fresno Unified don’t meet state standards in English Language Arts.

One Fresno, really? Are we suppose to ignore the fact that nearly 9 in 10 Black students and nearly 8 in 10 Hispanic students trail the standards in math?

That’s a crisis. One that must be relentlessly and urgently addressed by Dyer in a city where residents decades ago empowered its top official with the “strong mayor” designation.

Championing Education

Dyer’s assignment needn’t be political. Instead, he should become the district’s — and education’s — No. 1 champion.

In every corner of the city, he should talk to families about the importance of education. He should become well-versed in the many great opportunities — dual enrollment, career technical education, dual language immersion, pre-school, transitional kindergarten — offered by Fresno Unified and tell parents that their kids should take advantage of those programs.

More than that, he should say that their kids deserve these programs, just as they deserve to have access to a first-rate education.

He should also talk about the importance of hard work, discipline, reaching for the stars, and young moms and dads reading to their children.

Should he want to further his political ambitions, he can become a national spokesman for the belief that Literacy Is a Civil Right.

The mayor is dynamic — one-on-one and for the cameras. With a little prep and study, he can sell education better than any superintendent that Fresno Unified hires.

Building Healthy Communities Starts With Education

Councilmembers can make education a regular part of their district meetings with constituents. And, they can spotlight students who have succeeded against long odds and hold them up as community heroes.

Recently, one of Fresno’s most powerful community activists, Sandra Celedon, joined the voices calling for Fresno Unified to conduct a far-ranging search for its next superintendent. She made it clear that she was speaking as a parent of a district student.

However, the group she leads, Building Healthy Communities, could move mountains with a stout focus on educational equity for students — especially at underperforming schools.

Think about it, Fresno.

You, too, Mayor Dyer.

Will you commit to transforming Fresno into Education City USA?

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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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