Fresno Unified Superintendent speaks out after e-mail draws criticism

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Parents said they're upset with the children being labeled and pointed out for their race saying they should instead get positive reinforcement and encouragement. (KFSN)

A statement made by Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson is causing some controversy among teachers and parents.

In an email to teachers on Friday, Hanson referred to African-American and Hispanic students as "black and brown." Hanson is apologizing for the e-mail while also defending his words. In the e-mail, Hanson asked, "are your black and brown students finding early success?" The district leader spoke to the media by phone as he was visiting a 6th-grade camp out of town.

"I'll modify my language going forward," he said. "If someone needs an apology for it, I will absolutely apologize for using a language that some people misunderstood the intent."

His intent, Hanson said, was to call on teachers and staff to take notice of African-American and Hispanic students and encourage their successes.

"Those two sets of students have not performed as well historically and they continue to lag so this is not judging anybody this is actually putting the data in front of people," he said.

Action News spoke with a number of Fresno Unified parents about Hanson using the terms "black and brown," and many parents had no issue with it but a number of others were outraged.

"No under any circumstances is that okay," said Joni Combs, who is the grandparent of a student. "I don't care what you're referencing. They're children and I think it's degrading."

Parents said they're upset with the children being labeled and pointed out for their race saying they should instead get positive reinforcement and encouragement.

"It's not right," parent Phyllis Lewis said. "I mean, they already get enough labels and they're being pressured in school or bullied or name calling. You don't need an adult to add onto that."

"The people of the city he shouldn't refer to us black, brown, white, who cares, we could be pink, purple or green," parent Lori Gutierrez said.

Hanson's full e-mail reads:

Happy Friday!

As we approach the end of our first month of school, I wanted to check in with you to follow up on my Convocation remarks. Are your students feeling connected and performing well? Are your black and brown students finding early success? How has your lesson construction involved supporting and providing for the needs of every student? Are you listening? As the adults in our system, we set the tone for success for all. Please continue to be mindful of this going forward. It means the world to our youth.

We continually strive for our students to be able to select from the greatest number of postsecondary choices from the widest array of options, and part of that effort includes taking the SAT exam. Our next test administration is October 1st, and high school teachers, please support your seniors in getting onto Khan Academy for test practice and personalized feedback on this crucially important exam. Over 90% of our students are already connected to Khan, and we need to support every student is achieving their very best. If the student needs computer access at home, the Boys and Girls Clubs stand ready to help as a great community partner.

Every school district has local business partners like the Boys and Girls Club who serve as unsung heroes, faithfully working to help provide an excellent education for our students. For example, one of our partners- the Fresno Historical Society- supports us in giving our students the opportunity to experience American history, firsthand. As educators, we instinctively know that kids benefit from learning by doing. If you went to outdoor education camp in the 6th grade, it is likely an memory that you still retain as an adult. Our Board of Trustees, in the adopted 2016-17 budget, expanded opportunities for students to benefit from universal access to field trip experiences, in all elementary grades including transitional kindergarten!

Next month, our students will again be able to benefit from our local partnership with the Fresno Historical Society in the Civil War Revisited program at Kearney Park. Kids can have conversations with historical figures, see cannons being fired, and experience firsthand the Civil War era in American History. The "Time Traveler's Education Days" are taking place on October 19th and 20th at the Kearney Mansion Museum. Last year, our students had a great experience, and we are hoping to expand that opportunity even further this year. As the great American statesman Ben Franklin once said, "Tell me and I will forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn."

Are there other businesses that are partnering with us whom you feel deserve recognition for their effort? The Fresno Compact annually recognizes local heroes who promote business-education partnerships. Each year, they recognize ten local businesses that have built exceptional partnerships with schools, contributing time and resources to help students reach their full potential. The upcoming recognition event is on March 1st, 2017, and we would love to hear from you regarding local businesses who make a difference in the lives of Fresno Unified's children. If you have a business to put forward, please email Bob Nelson at

Here's wishing you a weekend of great experiences-


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