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Fresno Trustees Have Two Days of Homework This Weekend. What Is It About?
gvw_nancy_price
By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 4 weeks ago on
May 24, 2024

Fresno Unified is contracting with the Council of the Great City Schools for training and coaching services. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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Update: Board President Susan Wittrup said Friday evening that the weekend workshop has been cancelled because of weather delays on the presenters’ flights to Fresno. The workshop will be rescheduled to a later date, she said.

Fresno Unified trustees will spend part of their Memorial Day weekend at a two-day workshop in downtown Fresno to learn about an initiative that’s already being implemented in other big-city districts across the nation.

The initiative is “Student Outcomes Focused Governance,” which the Council of the Great City Schools has been promoting for years as a process in which School Boards adopt a laser focus on improving student outcomes and shape their discussions to accomplish it.

Fresno Unified’s two-year, $100,000 contract for coaching services with the Washington, D.C.-based Council of the Great City Schools was added as an amendment to Wednesday’s School Board meeting agenda and was approved by the board without discussion. The approval came only days before this weekend’s workshop, although the contract’s effective date was April 24.

According to the staff report, the district will receive “leadership training and support coaching; confidential and closed session participation and advising; professional development; facilitation of discussions regarding the district’s long-term vision and strategic plan; real-time coaching during school board meetings; and other governance team supports as mutually agreed upon.”

The contract also requires the district to pay travel-related expenses, to total not more than $2,500 per person per trip, for consultants,

Why This Weekend?

When asked why the workshop was scheduled for this weekend and what the School Board hopes to gain from it, Board President Susan Wittrup initially declined to comment but later said that the board is “receiving training on how to increase its focus on improving student outcomes.”

The workshop will be held in the Factory 41 building at 2721 Ventura St., less than a mile from the district’s downtown headquarters at M and Tulare streets, and will start at 9 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.

District spokeswoman Nikki Henry said the board will be using space that the district is already leasing in the building. Why isn’t the workshop at the district’s headquarters? “This is meant to be retreat-style and oftentimes in retreats you change the dynamics in the room to build more collaboration by being in a new or different space,” she said.

Henry said the trainer is Ashley Paz. According to the Council of the Great City Schools, Paz is the secretary-treasurer of the council’s executive board and a former trustee of the Fort Worth Independent School District.

And why is the training being held on a holiday weekend? “This decision was made by the board as this is their training,” Henry said. “The board feels an urgency with our new interim superintendent, and this is the first two-day span where all board members could be together and uninterrupted. As you know, many of our trustees have full-time jobs, so a weekend is often necessary to get two full days of uninterrupted time for training like this.”

According to Henry, Student Outcomes Focused Governance is a trademarked training program through the Council of the Great City Schools. The framework is based on six “pillars” that define board behaviors and how they impact improvements in student outcomes: visions and goals; values and guardrails; monitoring and accountability; communications and collaboration; unity and trust; and continuous improvement.

Fresno Unified’s three main goals through the contract, Henry said, are to clarify the district’s priorities, align the superintendent search to those priorities, and monitor student progress.

Adopted by Other Districts

Fresno Unified is the latest among urban school districts to adopt the Student Outcomes Focused Governance. The framework can be customized to fit the needs of each district but follows the same general outline of establishing goals and “guardrails” to guide school district administrators as they implement the goals.

According to San Diego Unified’s website, the board started its process moving toward Student Outcomes Focused Governance in December 2022, signed a contract in April 2023 with the Council of the Great City Schools, and held board workshops in July and October before adopting a two-year implementation timeline in November.

In February and March this year the board conducted community listening sessions. San Diego trustees then considered data from those sessions to begin crafting their five-year goals, which include what elementary, middle, and high school students should know and be able to do.

One of the earlier adopters of Student Outcomes Focused Governance was Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, which drew up its goals give years ago, setting specific targets for student progress and guardrails directing the superintendent not to neglect students’ social-emotional needs, nor allow inequitable treatment of students, nor deprive students of access to course offerings that are “rich, diverse, and rigorous.”

But five years later, the district seems to be struggling to meet its goals. The news site Queen City News reported in February that the district’s goal of reducing suspensions of Black students from 31% to 23% came up short — by the end of the first semester this year the percentage had only been lowered to 29%.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s goal of having 75% of its students graduate with diploma endorsements was falling woefully short, according to Queen City News. Only 37% of last year’s graduates had a diploma endorsement — 12% lower than when the district set its goal.

Meanwhile, in Seattle concerns have been raised over whether the School Board’s adoption of Student Outcomes Focused Governance has caused it to hand over too much power to the district’s superintendent. Articles published last year in The Stranger, an alternative publication in Seattle, outlined concerns over whether the policy changes would weaken public accountability and oversight.

How Will It Impact Classrooms?

Manuel Bonilla, president of the Fresno Teachers Association, said he will be interested to see what the board learns from its weekend workshop and whether that leads to policy changes. But he questioned holding the workshop on a holiday weekend when it will be less likely to draw a lot of attention from the public.

And what good are presentations from the Council of the Great City Schools if the board ignores them, he said. For example, Bonilla said, many of the issues raised and recommendations about the district’s special education programs that were cited in a 2018 study by the Council of the Great City Schools surfaced in the council’s latest presentation to the board earlier this month.

Instead of spending money on outside consultants, the board needs to listen to its front-line workers, Bonilla said.

As for shifting to Student Outcomes Focused Governance, “my fear is that people get caught up in the buzzwords, as opposed to, what’s the action?” he said. “Buzzwords, they sound nice, they do. But what’s the action, how’s it impacting the classroom?”

Student Outcomes Focused Governance Training Manual

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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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