Getting to Know a School Board Candidate

Dan Bordona
Dan Bordona

(Author’s note: Dan Bordona has announced his candidacy for a school board seat in the November 2024 election. The author worked as a teacher at Edison High School when Bordona was also there—first as a student teacher, later as an administrator.)

When some people retire, they decide to travel, often taking multiple trips to exotic locations. Others devote themselves to hobbies that they’d previously neglected: painting, woodworking, playing music.

Dan Bordona, though, has chosen a different path. 

After a 33-year career with the Fresno Unified School District (FUSD), he has decided to run for the Hoover area seat on the school board.

Should he get a seat on the board? That’s something that voters will have to decide in November 2024. But given the amount of time that he worked in the FUSD—both as a teacher and as an administrator, at various sites as well as in the downtown office—his candidacy deserves attention and serious consideration.

What prompted him to take this step? First and foremost, he’s tossing his hat into the ring because he’s always been passionate about this district and about education in general. “We do the most important work there is as educators. That might be a cliché, but it’s the truth.”

Which critical issues need to be addressed in the district, in his opinion? He provides a wide-ranging list.

District Facilities

Some sites have been neglected for a variety of reasons and urgently need an upgrade. Hoover High School, where Bordona worked for 10 years, provides a salient example. There, the quad has always looked bad—mud, dry grass or both at the same time. For years, there’s been talk at Hoover about remodeling the office and building a theater, but to date those plans haven’t come to fruition.

Hoover, and other schools like it, need to get the attention they deserve.

Spending Decisions

How wisely are funds being allocated district-wide? Fiscal responsibility—an ongoing focus on the way spending impacts education—needs to be front and center. Here, above all, he has in mind “the district’s penchant for spending money on outside consultants,” a long-standing habit that needs to be reined in.

Relations with Teachers and the FTA

Last spring, when the union-district negotiation sessions were available online, Bordona was disappointed by what he saw. The district team was consistently unprepared, he feels. In many instances, the Fresno Teachers Association (FTA) would make a proposal and the FUSD response would be something like “We’ll get back to you about that.” 

That sort of behavior led many teachers to feel that the district leadership was dragging its feet. Teacher discontent rose accordingly: They felt that they weren’t being taken seriously.

He approves of the deal that was finally struck—“it included some good give and take”—but it could have been completed back in May.

His conclusion: The district needs to learn from its missteps in this round of contract talks and, moving forward, conduct future negotiations in a more streamlined and productive fashion.

Nonacademic Use of Digital Devices

When Bordona worked at Bullard High School for three weeks last winter, he witnessed that site’s “pouch policy” in action. In one sense, the protocol—designed to restrict nonacademic use of phones and other devices in classrooms—wasn’t working at all.

The policy called for students to place their phones in Yondr pouches in the morning and get them unlocked when classes were over for the day. Surprisingly, only a handful of students actually followed the procedure when Bordona was there. One afternoon, for example, only seven students needed their pouches unlocked. In that sense, the policy hadn’t turned out the way that people had envisioned.

From a broader perspective, though, it was having a major impact in classrooms, Bullard teachers assured him. Now, they rarely need to report nonacademic phone use to the office. Teachers told Bordona that the learning environment in their rooms had greatly improved.

Originally, when Bullard proposed introducing the Yondr pouches, there was lots of community pushback. Now, however, given the results that Bullard has seen, he wonders why the district hasn’t decided to implement this approach or something like it more widely. He believes that it’s high time to tackle the undesirability of out-of-control phone use at many sites.

Student Achievement

A high priority for Bordona—something that’s concerned him since the start of his career—is bolstering real student achievement.

How much students have actually learned isn’t always obvious. Apparent markers of academic success can sometimes be deceptive.

Given his background at secondary schools, he’s especially troubled by the “denigration of the value of a high school diploma.” Ongoing grade inflation has contributed to this weakening of a diploma’s traditional value.

Another contributing factor is the relatively new strategy of credit recovery, an opportunity that’s now available in all of the district’s comprehensive and alternative secondary schools. A company called Edgenuity supplies the materials for these courses.

Instead of attaining credits the traditional way, in a classroom for an entire school year’s worth of instruction, students attend relatively short “classes” in a computer lab. Those who “teach” Edgenuity sessions don’t need to have credentials in the subjects being offered; they’re merely present to monitor the students who work independently at their individual computers. The content of these courses doesn’t always match state standards: an Edgenuity chemistry class, for example, won’t necessarily include all of the material that should be covered in such a course. 

“It’s not about learning,” as one Edgenuity instructor once put it. “It’s about credit recovery.”

The Edgenuity program is now well entrenched in the FUSD; several months ago, a district spokesperson said that since 2014 more than 21,407 students had gotten credits for courses using credit recovery.

Counselors, under pressure to get as many kids as possible to fulfill the A-G requirements (the requirements needed for students to apply for a place at a University of California campus), have on occasion turned to Edgenuity to raise these numbers—giving students a semblance of impressive academic success that the reality of credit recovery hardly warrants.

For Bordona, that’s “ludicrous” and needs to stop.

Beyond that, he feels strongly that there needs to be an upper limit as to how many credits can be earned toward graduation using the Edgenuity route.

Some students have in fact earned two years’ worth of credits—half of their academic coursework—in Edgenuity courses. This trend undermines the authority of teachers and undercuts attempts to impose academic rigor.

He concedes that Edgenuity has been improved since it originally appeared. It’s now more rigorous than before and contains built-in features that check for possible cheating.

Still, he argues that it’s unfair—to students, to their families and to the community—to diminish the worth of a diploma in this fashion. 

To jump-start his campaign, Bordona has gotten involved with Facebook. There, starting in early 2024, he plans to share his thoughts about educational matters on a regular basis.

His approach to all the jobs that he’s ever held has always been the same: to do the best work that he can and make the work enjoyable. 

Should his election bid prove to be successful, he plans to bring that same mindset along for the ride.

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