By Ruth Gadebusch
Once again, the idea of dividing the Fresno Unified School District is in the air as the answer to all the woes. Alas, it is not as simple as that.
We don’t need any more division in this city. Have we forgotten the political divide indicated in that mayoral race of just a short time ago? Although the latest school proposal is for an East-West divide and the political was clearly a North-South one, it makes little difference. Division is division when what we need is more working together for our entire community. One might question if we are really one community but, like it or not, we share a geographical region with the welfare of one citizen or group tied in with the other.
Nor do we necessarily compare with surrounding communities sited with similar demographics. There are too many differences within those statistics. So far as I can tell, none of those areas has quite the racial or poverty clear-cut boundaries as found in any large American city. It is a difficult gap to bridge.
Currently, much is being made of the plans for the GastonMiddle School in southwest Fresno. It is a good thing, in fact wonderful; however, we must not picture the lack of a neighborhood middle school in that area as a dastardly deed perpetrated on the people. It was part of the effort for desegregation that required a great deal of “inconvenience” for all parts of the district. It was one of those things for which full agreement would never be possible.
I would still argue that for any faults that the plan had it was the “lesser of the evils.” Desegregation occurred in many cases, but we still await integration all these years later. That brings me to the very reason I would oppose dividing of the school district. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was a member of that Board of Education that developed and implemented the plan.)
Good, bad, and otherwise, few, if any, American cities have escaped the whammy of race and poverty developing isolated housing areas where the separate groups had little contact with each other. Such lack of interconnectedness leaves no opportunity to get to know each other with respect for differences and therefore different needs. It has only been exacerbated by the escaping of the more affluent to those nearby communities of supposedly better schools. It wipes out hope, aspiration, ambition of those feeling abandoned ever escaping.
That is one of my many reasons for supporting the saving of the Fulton Mall. It lies within the heart of the less affluent part of town where the citizens are more likely to use public transportation than the private automobile. The sprawl ever farther north does not portend well for the overall community, especially its schools.
We would do well to recognize that the problem belongs to the entire community, not just the school district. Just why do 59,000 students need free and reduced meals? Or how did 2,400 become homeless? The district states that another 600 are in foster care and there are more than 16,000 English learners. Any one of these alone is challenging. This does not even take into consideration medical care, clothing and such.
My firm belief is that we must begin providing services for the prenatal and ensure that every child gets a good foundation. Lost years can never be compensated. Living conditions do affect learning. It is my hope that large portions of the recent funding designated for high-needs students will be used for the early years to provide that foundation; however, it is not designed for the social needs that are the responsibility of the community. Responsible agencies would find it more difficult working with two entities. Speaking of funding, it would certainly facilitate planning if schools were assured of adequate financing rather than last-minute bits and pieces.
Let us never forget that each child is a unique miracle with different needs to fulfill his/her full potential. We would do well to remember that one group does not long profit at the expense of another. All families do not have the same ability to provide but all share this planet. It may sound Pollyannish but good health demands working together as one community.
Ruth Gadebusch, a community activist, is a veteran, a former member of the Fresno Unified School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.