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Traveling/Not Traveling on District's Dime Merits Mentions by Fresno Trustees
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 1 month ago on
June 14, 2024

Fresno Unified Trustee Keshia Thomas thanked her supporters at Wednesday's board meeting as Board Clerk Valerie Davis, at left, looks on. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

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GV Wire’s Edward Smith has been probing into how much Fresno Unified trustees have been billing taxpayers for their board-related travel to conferences and the like, and apparently his reporting has caused some heartburn for at least one trustee.

 

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


Trustee Keshia Thomas, whose expenses far outpaced her fellow trustees over a three-year period, took a few minutes during Wednesday’s School Board meeting to thank those who have supported her.

“I would like to say, thank you to the staff and community members for supporting me and checking in on my social-emotional health where, this faulty and over-the-top tabloid (story) was presented. I would also like to thank all of you for your unwavering support,” she said.

Thomas told GV Wire earlier this week, when contacted for comment about the Edison High murals remaining in place, that “unfortunately I’m no longer doing interviews with GV Wire. Nothing personal.” She is the trustee for the Edison High region.

Trustee Veva Islas, who was in Berkeley Wednesday for a work trip, also referenced Smith’s story but somewhat more obliquely.

“Just as a point of privilege, I didn’t remember to say this at my opening, but I’m sorry I’m not there with you all, I did have to travel because of work,” she said. “And I just want to make sure to state that my travel has not been paid for by the district.”

Looking at Higher Office?

Meanwhile, an apparent slip of the tongue by one audience member at the board meeting caused a wave of laughter and then then made some people wonder. Jennifer Cruz, manager of the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission’s LGBTQ+ Resource Center, was one of several speakers thanking board members for approving a resolution in support of Pride Month.

“This is one of the largest school districts in California. So thank you for being on the right side of this and continuing to do this hard work. I know that it’s not always easy,” she said. “And we see nationally the anti-LGBTQ legislation all over the place and locally. And a special shout out to Councilwoman Jonasson Rosas. Yeah. Elizabeth, thank you so much. So, so, councilwoman, I’m so sorry — Elizabeth. Thank you so much.”

When School Zone texted Jonasson Rosas on Thursday to ask if there was some news that she hadn’t shared yet, she texted back “Nope” and then sent a screenshot of Cruz’s texted apology in which Cruz said it was “100% an accident” and probably the result of attending too many board meetings.

“lol ppl thought it was on purpose. I’m sure it’ll be in GV Wire,” Jonasson Rosas texted Cruz.

Other people in the room might have been forgiven for thinking it was more than an innocent slip after reading a Fresnoland story this week on Bob Nelson’s legacy as FUSD superintendent in which he decried what he said was the power of local developers and unions in district decision-making and also how some politicians (like Jonasson Rosas’ husband, Fresno City Councilman and Board of Supervisors candidate Luis Chavez) have used the School Board as a steppingstone to higher office.

Nelson is serving as a consultant to Interim Superintendent Misty Her and the board and continues to pull down his full salary and benefits until his departure after July 31 for a faculty gig at Fresno State. He was absent from Wednesday’s board meeting.

Does Two Years Make a Dynasty?

Reedley College’s Mule Packing Team claimed its second annual win as Interscholastic Packing Team World Champions at the recent competition in Bishop. If there can be such a thing as drama in these events, where participants are timed as to how speedily and accurately they can pack a mule and mount a rider, this year’s competition would qualify as dramatic: Reedley was in a four-way tie going into the final day of competition.

“Saturday night, we looked at the board and realized the situation we were in,” said Harley McCorkle, who was an alternate last year and who helped lead the way this year with her packing and planning skills. “Sunday rolls around and we thought we could full throttle it, do the best we can, and see what happens. We were confident enough that we could score enough to be reserve champion, at least. So, I scanned the area before we went and planned it out. We shot for the middle so we had more room and flexibility and it was all muscle memory after that. I grabbed my items, built my box and tied it off, then I hoisted Laurel (Machoian) up on Jasper’s saddle and they took off.”

The Tigers time was 1 minute and 15 seconds, about 15 seconds faster than anyone else. As champions, they took home the coveted buckle trophies and plaques at the annual packers dinner on June 9.

And why is it important to have trained mule packers? According to the team’s head coach, Loni Langdon, who also teaches the college’s mule packing class, “Packers and livestock who can help keep our trails open for recreation to people who visit from around the world is an essential service. It’s a dying art. It makes what we’re doing at Reedley College extremely important.”

Reedley College’s Mule Packing Team won the Interscholastic Packing Team World Championship for the second year in a row. (Reedley College)

Scholarships, and More Scholarships

The Foundation for Fresno Unified Schools awarded three $10,000 Amazon scholarships last month to seniors Christian Delgado of Bullard High, Kimmy Liu of Edison High, and Juan Diaz Montes of Sunnyside High. The three were selected for their community involvement, ambitious goals, and strong need for financial assistance to attend college.

The foundation handed out other scholarships totaling $424,000 to 292 graduates, the largest sum in Fresno Unified history and a direct result of the foundation’s high-octane philanthropic fundraising efforts in recent years.

“Investing in our students is paramount, and we extend our sincerest gratitude to Amazon for their commitment,” Wendy McCulley, chief of the Office of Engagement and External Partnerships and executive director of The Foundation for Fresno Unified Schools, said in a news release. “Scholarships are the driving force behind our students’ dreams, and we recognize that Fresno’s future innovators, builders, entrepreneurs, workers and leaders are cultivated within our schools.”

But wait, there’s more: Fresno State is providing $1,000 in matching scholarships to 20 Fresno Unified students who are Bulldog Bound. And a portion of a $35,000 Kashian Family Foundation grant will provide scholarships for five graduating seniors who are part of Fresno Unified’s Project ACCESS, which provides support to foster and homeless youth who are moving on to college and career. The remainder of the grant was used for the annual suit drive and Suited for Success shopping event for juniors and seniors.

High Schoolers’ Can Sign Up for Citizen Project

Clovis Veterans Memorial District is presenting the weeklong 2024 American Citizen Toolkit Student Leadership Program, which the district describes as an interactive and immersive opportunity for students to grow their leadership skills and “deepen their understanding of civic duties.” (School Zone reminds everybody who is of voting age that they need to be registered AND to vote.)

What to expect? Exciting team-building activities, engaging peer debates, in-depth sessions on the constitutional powers of government, and guidance on developing effective action plans.

The session will be July 15-19 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District, 8008 Fourth St. in Clovis. The cost is $12.51, and students can register here.

Kudos, Congrats, Good Job, Etc.

School Zone is running out of room, so:

  • Kings Canyon was recognized by Educational Results Partnership as one of California’s top-performing school districts, making ERP’s annual Honor Roll list. The district’s recognition is due to its outstanding efforts and success in closing achievement gaps, particularly among low-income and historically disadvantaged student populations.
  • University High’s Lawrence Jarocki is the winner of the Diamond Coach Award by the National Speech & Debate Association. Coaches earn points through longevity, team participation, student achievement, and leadership work.
  • Pauline Victoria Estrada of Clovis North won a $5,000 scholarship in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair 2024 in the plant sciences category for her first-place project, Rapid AI Superweed Detection Program. Pauline developed a computer program to analyze images taken by an off-the-shelf camera and explore the spectral signatures of resistant and susceptible chickweed plants as they react to herbicide. She’s not the first Estrada to fare well in the international science fair — her brother nabbed one of the big prizes, the $50,000 Gordon E. Moore Award, in 2021 for his study of using AI to predict drought stress in plants.

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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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