Education: Hanson is Gone, Time for Change

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Fresno Teachers Association president Tish Rice waiting to address audience of 928 community members at People’s Church on January 31, 2017. Image by Simone Cranston-Rhodes.

By Simone Cranston-Rhodes

On March 28 at 4 p.m. at The People’s Church (7172 N. Cedar Fresno, CA 93720) the Fresno Teachers Association (FTA) will be hosting An Education Summit on the Future of Fresno Unified School District (FUSD). This important event will be a discussion on the future of FUSD and who will be our next Superintendent. Joining the discussion will be Brooke Ashjian, the President of the Fresno Unified School Board along with other Board Members. “With the superintendent gone, it is more important than ever to change the dynamic we have with the district.” Peter Beck, the Vice President of the FTA says, “The more teachers and community members that show up the more seriously Fresno Unified must take us. The time for change is now.”

The Fresno Teachers Association (FTA) started our Stand with Students campaign in the Spring of 2015. FTA, students, parents, and a coalition of community groups and nonprofits came together to transform public education. While we have made great strides in our efforts over the last two years, we still have a long way to go to ensure the best public education for our community. With significant funding increases coupled with changes in the way public school districts receive funding, our school district’s budget has increased by over $200 million dollars in the last three years.

This means the Fresno Unified School Board controls nearly $1 billion dollars. With the responsibility of educating of 74,000 students, 88 percent of which live in poverty, are foster youth, or English learners, FUSD has a lot of resources that impact the quality of education our students receive. It is critical that educators, parents, students and community members have a plan and vision for how the budget should be spent to create the best education and learning environment for our students.

Over the course of three Stand with Students community meetings in 2015, attended by nearly 1,000 people, three main goals immerged:

  1. Smaller Class Sizes
  2. More Social/Emotional Support
  3. Safer Schools

This became our Stand with Students platform. Hector Cerda, the Regional Coordinator for California Youth Connection, comments on the importance of improving social and emotional supports for foster youth students. “In general, our data shows that districts should require some type of socio-emotional support that gives students in foster care the ability to attain improved educational outcomes. They range from peer supports, such as clubs or social organizations with other students in foster care, to improved teacher and staff training for responding to a traumatized student that might become triggered, to therapists, academic counselors and social workers that understand the social services system.”

After our initial Stand with Students community meetings, our next step was to bring our platform to the FUSD School Board Meetings. In Spring of 2016, after several attempts, the School Board refused to put our demands on the agenda. The next step was to change the balance of power on the school board.

In the Fall of 2016, FTA endorsed two FUSD School Board candidates. For Trustee Area 6 (Hoover) FTA endorsed Claudia Cazares and for Trustee Area 2 (Roosevelt) FTA endorsed Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas. By the time these two new School Board Trustees won their respected races, FTA had built a working relationship with the new Trustees and they were clear as to why our platform is important to creating better schools our students and professionals deserve.

In the last few months, a lot of change has happened in FUSD, including the termination of Superintendent Hanson. An impressive number of educators has been mobilized around FTA negotiations with the district. 928 folks attended the last negotiations meeting on January 31.

Throughout this year’s negotiations between FUSD and FTA, FTA has put over 20 proposals on the table.

Our current demands include caps on class sizes, outlined here:

Also includes full-time social-emotional support at schools that include school psychologists, social workers, and registered nurses.

As our next meeting approaches, we have the momentum to create real change in this district. “The most pressing issue for the new incoming Superintendent is to value educator expertise, student & parent voice, invest in staff and create space for improved relationships. It is also important to have transparency and accountability in our schools,” says Grisanti Valencia, the lead organizer of Californians For Justice. We have an opportunity to have our voices heard by those who have the power to make a change. Please join us as we work to improve FUSD schools on March 28.

Our event includes dinner using a variety of food truck options and childcare for children six months to school age.  Translators will be available for those who speak Spanish.

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Simone Cranston-Rhodes is the political organizer at the Fresno Teachers Association. Contact her at simonecranstonrhodesfta@outlook.com.