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As the parent of a school-age child and someone who works in the field of education, I try to stay connected to major things that are happening in the school districts that surround us here in the Valley.
My son attends school in Fresno Unified School District, the 4th largest school district in the state of California. As a third-generation Central Unified student and alumni, I wasn’t sure, as a parent, what to expect in Fresno Unified. But so far, our family’s personal experience has been very positive.
This week, I had the opportunity to attend the State of Education luncheon held by Fresno Unified, and I learned quite a bit about what’s happening in the district during new Superintendent Bob Nelson’s keynote address.
Seeing as 74,000 Fresno children attend schools in Fresno Unified, I felt you may be as interested to learn some of the things I was able to during the luncheon.
10 I Learned About Fresno Unified School District
1. Bob Nelson was named the district’s Superintendent this year. He has worked in the district for 23 years, having taught, been a principal, and served in administration during his career. Nelson is also a father of seven children, four of which he and his wife adopted from the foster care system. The children range in age from their late teens down to two years old.
2. Fresno Unified’s graduation rate has been continuously improving over the past few years, and now the rate of students successfully graduating high school exceeds that of the California state average.
3. This isn’t to say there aren’t a multitude of challenges, however. Nelson admits there is lots of room to grow, as 59% of students received a D or F grade at some point during the last school year.
4. Fresno Unified students face challenges: 9 out of 10 Fresno Unified students face poverty or a language barrier, or are part of the foster care system (many experience more than one of these barriers). This 9 out of 10 ratio is higher than any other district in the state, and Nelson said the district will need to focus on the needs of individual children and how to help them succeed despite these barriers.
5. One way the district is supporting learning is by funding Khan Academy test prep for all high school students preparing to take the SAT. All students have access to the proven test-preparation materials at no cost. (Typically, this is a pricey, fee-based program.)
6. Speaking of the SAT, Fresno Unified has also integrated taking the SAT into the regular school year, so all high school students will have not only the opportunity to prepare but also take the test, even if their family cannot pay the testing fee or take their child to a school to test on Saturdays. Strong SAT scores = greater college opportunities for students.
7. Another recent change is that the district now ensures funding for all sixth grade students to have the opportunity to attend sixth grade camp. In the past, students who couldn’t pay for the cost of camp were not able to go; now, all student camp costs are covered and the experiential learning opportunity provided is available to all.
8. 90% of Fresno Unified high school students applied to a UC or 4-year university last year, and the district now works with each student to help them personally match their academics, interests, and needs with the colleges most likely to suit them, thus increasing acceptance rates.
9. Last year, Hoover High School unveiled an adaptive ramp at their pool complex that will provide students with disabilities easier access to aquatic sports. Additionally, Roosevelt and McLane will soon break ground on pool complexes later this year.
10. Superintendent Nelson concluded his speech with a commitment to modeling positive relationships and interpersonal connections for students in the community and across organizations. He also addressed the potential teacher strike that currently looms in the month ahead, and stated he will do everything in his power to avoid that happening, and that the hope is still strong for a positive outcome for both parties.