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Fresno Charter School Wants to Increase Enrollment. But Are Its Students Lagging Their Peers?
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 3 weeks ago on
May 6, 2024

Golden Charter Academy is planning to build a gleaming new school on West Belmont Avenue in central Fresno. (Dyson Janzen Architects/Rendering)

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Golden Charter Academy is asking the Fresno Unified School Board to authorize the school to expand its enrollment capacity and to move its location to a new site just south of Roeding Regional Park and the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

“Our TK students are doing civic action right now, and I just want that to be on record, to know that we’re not just giving students a world-class educational opportunity, but we’re doing things for Fresno that is benefiting every single person that lives in this city, from an air quality standpoint.” — Robert Golden, head of Golden Charter Academy

Superintendent Bob Nelson has recommended approval of the charter revision, which is on Wednesday’s School Board agenda.

But some district officials who did not want to be identified are questioning whether Golden Charter Academy should be permitted to expand its enrollment when state testing shows Golden Charter students are lagging behind their counterparts at other Fresno Unified elementary schools in the city’s southwest area.

Golden Charter seeks to add a T-K class and an average of six additional students to each of the school’s nine other grade levels, or a total of 78 students, increasing enrollment from 448 to 526.

The reason for the expansion is twofold, says Robert Golden, who retired from the NFL and started the school. There are more than 600 students on the waiting list, hoping that a slot will open for them.

In addition, the letter from Golden in the charter revision application notes that the additional money in state revenues from more enrollment will help cover the increased operating costs of its new school, which is scheduled to open in the 2026-27 school year.

Big Waiting List

The loss of state funding if 78 students transfer to Golden Charter Academy will have a minimal impact on Fresno Unified, the state’s third-largest school district, Golden said, and the additional seats will mean much to southwest Fresno students yearning for an opportunity to attend a charter school that focuses on place-based environmental education and collaborates with Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

“When you have over 635 students on your waiting list, why wouldn’t you want to accommodate those families?” he said.

The families of students now enrolled have been faithful about showing up for teacher conferences and project presentations, and are staying deeply involved with their children’s education, Golden said.

Golden Charter Academy opened its doors to students in grades TK-3 in the fall of 2021 and has been adding a grade level each year. It will enroll all grades by the 2026-27, the same year its charter is for renewal.

Schools that were chartered during the pandemic had their charter period extended by one to two years under a California law that took effect last year. Golden Charter’s original charter was through 2026.

Golden: SBAC Comparison Is Skewed

Using the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments to compare Golden Charter with their peers at six nearby Fresno Unified elementaries is not a fair comparison, at least in the school’s first two years, Golden said. The students are tested in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11, which means only Golden Charter’s third graders were tested in the 2021-22 school year, and their education previously had been in Fresno Unified or another school district, he said.

Last year’s SBAC testing was of the school’s third and fourth graders, giving an incomplete evaluation of how all the schools’ students are doing, Golden said.

The SBAC will be a more appropriate comparison by the time the school’s charter is up for renewal, he said. But for now school officials are using the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measure of Academic Progress, which shows an upward trend in grades K-2 that’s beating the national average, Golden said.

Why is that significant? Those are the students who started their academic careers at Golden Charter Academy and didn’t transfer from another school, he said.

Individual grade levels show improvement in reading and math that beats the national average in the NWEA Measure of Academic Progress. (Golden Charter Academy charter revision application)

Building New School

Golden Charter’s new site at 741 W. Belmont Ave. is now zoned for mixed-use but will not need to be rezoned, he said. Decades ago, there was a school on the site, but it was later replaced by a skating rink and a Hmong American center, Golden said.

Since its opening, Golden Charter has operated in a former parochial school on West Princeton Avenue, which means students have to travel several miles for their school assignments at the zoo.

There also had been criticism leveled over the fact that Golden’s mother-in-law, Fresno Unified Trustee Keshia Thomas, was a founding board member of the school. Golden’s March 11 letter that’s part of the charter revision application lists Thomas as the board’s vice chair. But Golden said Monday that Thomas resigned from the board that month.

Thomas did not respond Monday to a query from GV Wire about her resignation.

Golden Charter founder Robert Golden begins demolishing an old building on Belmont Avenue in preparation for the new campus for Golden Charter Academy, Nov. 3, 2023. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello).

Environmental Mission Important for Fresno

Golden Charter Academy’s environmental education is already paying off in a region that for years has been cited for having some of the nation’s worst air quality, Golden said.

The school’s students have been involved in projects to clean up river habitat, plant trees, and do other conservation work as they learn about environmental advocacy at a young age, he said.

“We’re not waiting until they get older to give them some type of civic engagement project. Our TK students are doing civic action right now, and I just want that to be on record, to know that we’re not just giving students a world-class educational opportunity, but we’re doing things for Fresno that is benefiting every single person that lives in this city, from an air quality standpoint,” Golden said.

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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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