A Call to Action That Makes Every Fresno Student Excited to Be at School
How do we transform Fresno Unified schools so that kids can’t wait to go to school every day? How do we turn schools into humanizing and intellectually vital places that ignite a lifelong love of learning, creativity, passion, and confidence? When we build that, achievement will soar.
In January, I wrote an op-ed about building stadiums at the five Fresno Unified high schools that don’t have them. Some might think the idea of building stadiums at every FUSD high school is like suggesting a kitchen remodel for a house that’s on fire. I see their point. Our school district is on fire.
It’s hard to see beyond the chronically low-test scores, the bad ventilation, and the crumbling facilities. An email to FUSD staff from top leadership about the recent Fresno Bee article on the district’s failure to provide safe air to breathe in classrooms started, “We are not fans of the comparison game between our district and neighboring districts.”
The Bee article was in-depth and hard-hitting. It exposed more than just bad air. There is a long-standing culture of systemic apathy and defensiveness from top FUSD leadership when high-stakes actions are needed to protect and nurture students. Indifference at this altitude is deadly. How do we heal it?
Students Require Our Support Today — not in Five Years
The ocean of FUSD cannot be filled with a garden hose approach. The storm we need will require decisive, simultaneous, and synergistic actions based on sound principles.
My Plan to Accelerate Student Achievement
With an annual budget of nearly $1 billion, almost double that of six years ago, abundant reserves in the bank, and more than $684 million of one-time federal and state pandemic funding on the way, FUSD has the funds to make significant investments in student achievement. Improving school facilities is one investment that pays strong returns. In Los Angeles Unified School District, improvements that raised a school facility’s overall environmental compliance rating from “worst” to “best” correlated with a 36-point average increase in a school’s Academic Performance Index, a nearly 6% increase. And that’s just one example.
As a school board candidate in the Bullard region, here’s my plan to accelerate student achievement and a love of learning in Fresno Unified:
- Hold the top administration accountable for results and oversight. Tie a name to every task and make it visible.
- Attract and hire the best and brightest teachers and leaders for our schools. Provide excellent instruction — done right the first time — to build sturdy pathways for vocational careers and college. Supplement academics with extracurricular activities and electives that cultivate passion, curiosity, creativity, and confidence.
- Provide strategic and targeted academic interventions for students who are struggling with reading, written language, and mathematics. The absence of meaningful academic interventions is a glaring deficiency that keeps students trapped in low achievement. After-school tutoring that does not target learning gaps is simply not effective for improving learning loss after COVID-19 shutdowns.
- Build state-of-the-art facilities and maintain beautiful, safe grounds that serve as community hubs.
- Develop partnerships with parents and community leaders to hold the district accountable. Give parents and teachers more say on important curricular decisions. The content of the curriculum should align with the values of the community.
When this election cycle ends, the drama and distractions in the boardroom won’t matter. What matters is what we do as a community to take care of our children, to make sure they receive the best education possible – to create the synergistic mix of essential conditions that makes every kid excited to be at school.
About the Author
Susan Wittrup, a school psychologist for 35 years with Fresno Unified School District, is running for the Bullard High-area seat on the school board.