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Changes OK'd for Golden Charter Academy After Two Hours of Questions
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 2 weeks ago on
May 13, 2024

Golden Charter Academy got FUSD trustees approval to move its address to 741 W. Belmont Ave., where it is building a new facility. (Dyson Janzen Architects/Rendering)

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Golden Charter Academy staffers, parents, students, and supporters showed up en masse at last Wednesday’s Fresno Unified School Board meeting to lobby trustees to approve two major changes to the school’s charter: changing the school’s address to 741 W. Belmont Ave., where a brand-new structure is scheduled to open in the fall of 2025, and increasing enrollment by 78 students over the current cap of 448.

 

Check out earlier School Zone columns and other education news stories at Nancy Price’s School Zone Facebook page.


Both changes had been greenlighted by the district’s charter office, which provides oversight and evaluation of all charter schools authorized by the Fresno Unified School District, and by its legal counsel.

After more than two hours of questions about the school’s academic performance, absenteeism, current enrollment, the city permitting process to build the new school that’s designed by Fresno-based architect Arthur Dyson (he designed the equally shiny University High School on the Fresno State campus), whether plans for the new school include a playground, and why the school was asking for the charter change now, the trustees voted 5-0 with two abstentions (Board President Susan Wittrup and Trustee Veva Islas) to approve the changes.

Trustee Keshia Thomas, a founding member of Golden Charter Academy’s Board of Trustees whose resignation was approved by the GCA board at a special meeting on April 22, voted with the FUSD majority to approve the charter revision. The school’s founder is her son-in-law, former NFL player Robert Golden. But Jay Wierenga, a spokesman for the Fair Political Practices Commission, told GV Wire last week that Thomas’ vote would not constitute a conflict of interest, because those conflict rules for public officials don’t apply to their adult children, only their dependent kids.

Thomas, who was absent when the school’s charter was approved in 2021. followed up later that year with a scathing rebuke of her fellow trustees’ intensive review of GCA’s charter petition. In an eight-minute angry tirade, Thomas called out several trustees, including Islas, for conducting a “prejudiced witch hunt.”

‘Why Now?’

Thomas asked few questions at Wednesday’s meeting, most of which seemed designed to clarify answers from school officials.

The bulk of the questions came from Islas, who noted that the “mission of Golden Charter Academy is fantastic. I love your focus on environmental justice.”

But Islas questioned why the charter would need revising now if the school has not reached capacity and also has not yet had all permits and plans finalized by the city. Since the charter is not up for renewal until 2027, waiting a few more years to approve the revision would also give GCA more time to show improvements on its state assessment testing, she noted while making a motion to table the revision.

“I again want to reiterate that I am not interested in denying. I am interested in, what is also our responsibility in ensuring that we are approving charter schools that are providing the best education possible?” she said.

‘Don’t Hold Them Back’

Golden Charter Academy has a place-based environmental curriculum and partners with Fresno Chaffee Zoo as the students’ learning laboratory. The new site on Belmont Avenue is right across the street from the zoo and Roeding Park.

It 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 through the 8th grade by the 2026-27, the same year its charter is up for renewal.

The charter revision is needed now because the school is able to enroll only a fraction of the students who want to attend, Golden said. The waiting list is now more than 600 students.

Student Trustee Maritza Lua, who attends Sunnyside High School, drew cheers from GCA supporters when she implored her adult counterparts, “Don’t hold them back.”

Some interesting statistics surfaced during the presentation:

Of GCA’s current enrollment of 314 students in grades TK-5, 243 live in Fresno Unified, 44 in Central, 22 in Clovis, two in Madera, and one in Sanger. Of the students coming from Fresno Unified, 33% are from the Fresno High area, 16% from the Hoover area, 14% from the Bullard area, 13% from the Edison area, 9% from the McLane area, 8% from the Sunnyside area, and 7% from the Roosevelt area.

Students must either walk, take a city bus, or have their parents transport them to the school.

2 Local Schools Claim National Academic Decathlon Championships

Fresno County may have some of the biggest student brains in the country. At the very least, it’s home to not one but two charter schools that took first place in their categories in the National Academic Decathlon last month.

To perhaps no one’s surprise, Fresno’s University High School continued to dominate the Small School Division, successfully defending in the online competition the national championship that it has claimed every year since 2007 except for 2017, when it did not qualify, and 2020 when the competition was canceled due to the COVID pandemic.

University High, which also repeated as Fresno County’s champion this year, placed third in the Super Quiz event in the California Academic Decathlon, only three points behind the state decathlon champion, El Camino Real Charter of Los Angeles, which nabbed the overall national championship.

Hallmark Charter School of Sanger traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the national competition, where the team claimed the top spot in the at-large Division 5 competition. Perhaps even more noteworthy, Hallmark placed in the top 10 of all competing schools.

Hallmark’s team also won the Rookie of the Year award for its division, and four Hallmark team members — Jashan Narain, Nadia Janigian-Jones, Trisidy Florez, and Desirae Gomez — were four of the nine top-scoring students in their division.

Clovis Unified Names New School for Ambassador Sanchez

Ambassador Phillip V. Sanchez

Clovis Unified trustees decided to honor one of the district’s most illustrious alumnus when it voted to name a new intermediate school after the late Ambassador Phillip V. Sanchez.

Sanchez, who was born in Pinedale, attended Pinedale Elementary and later Clovis High School. In his younger days, Sanchez worked in the agricultural fields, and he would later graduate from Fresno State, serve in the U.S. military, and become Fresno County’s chief administrator. He served on the School Board from 1961 to 1963 following the district’s unification in 1960, which included his old Pinedale neighborhood in northwest Fresno.

He was the highest-ranking Hispanic official in the administrations of Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan, serving as ambassador to Honduras and later as ambassador to Colombia.

Ambassador Phillip V. Sanchez Intermediate School will be at the Terry P. Bradley Educational Center now under construction in southeast Fresno.

It’s not the first school in the county honoring Sanchez. The Ambassador Phillip V. Sanchez II Public Charter School is an independent study high school headquartered in Fresno that’s operated by Crescent View South and chartered through the Raisin City Elementary School District, a one-school district that’s about 15 miles southwest of Fresno.

Sign up for FUSD Summer Camps

We’re about a month away from the end of the school year, but it’s not too soon for Fresno Unified students and their families to be thinking about summer camps offered through the district. This year more than 90 camp opportunities are available for students in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade.

These camps are actually Expanded Learning Opportunities, according to the district, and will be held at schools and also at community-based locations including the African American Historical and Cultural Museum, Fresno State, Fresno City College, and Chukchansi Park.

The programs will include Dive into Space Scuba Diving, Virtual Reality and Coding, California Arts Academy, Hmong Clothing and Fashion Through Time, and Fresno State’s Women’s Rugby Youth Camp.

Priority registration — which is open to students who are English learners and eligible for a free or reduced-price meal, English learners who are foster youth, foster youth who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals — opened Monday. General registration will begin Thursday. Camps will run July 8 through July 26 in one-week sessions. Registration information will be available at www.fresnounified.org.

Summer camps are in addition to Summer Academies that will be held in June to support growth in literacy and math for elementary and middle school students and credit recovery and accelerated classes for high school students.

Kudos to FUSD Community Schools

State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Thurmond recently gave a special shout-out to Fresno Unified when announcing that $1.3 billion has been awarded by the State Board of Education in community schools implementation grants.

Community schools partner with education, county, and nonprofit entities to provide health, mental health, and social services, with a strong focus on community, family, and student engagement.

The state’s total investment of $4.1 billion is the largest in the nation and, according to Thurmond’s office, represents a major rethinking of the role of schooling.

Thurmond noted that Fresno Unified has used its community schools grant money for food and clothing pantries, family resource fairs, and community school coordinators at each site, as well as alternative transportation options for students who miss their school bus.

The result has been an increase in the daily attendance, family engagement, and more participation from parents and teachers,

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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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