Fresno Unified announces effort to lower dropout rate

FRESNO, Calif.

The move comes after a member of the community raised concerns about the number of kids becoming disengaged in classroom.

Superintendent Mike Hanson says the task force will be made up of 25 members of the community who have demonstrated expertise and knowledge in developing solutions to complex issues like increasing graduations rates.

The group will meet regularly from now until June and will deliver it's recommendations to the Board of Education before the end of the year.

Speaking at a news conference at the Fresno Unified School District headquarters Tuesday morning, Superintendent Mike Hanson announced the chair of a new task force designed specifically to increase the number of high school graduates.

"I am so pleased he has chosen to spend so much of his precious time on a topic that is so important to the City of Fresno," Hanson said.

Former California State Assembly Member and former Fresno Unified Trustee Juan Arambula will lead up the effort and is working quickly to attract other members to his team.

"Dropouts affect all of us in a number of different ways. Sometimes from a personal family angle. I have 3 of my siblings that did not graduate from high school and I've seen what they've had to go through to get a job and raise their families," Arambula said.

In 2009/2010 the district's graduation rate was 72.5 percent, up from 69.1 percent in 2007/2008. The number of dropouts also decreased from just under 15-hundred students to around 13-hundred during those same years. While Hanson says the numbers have improved it's not nearly enough. He wants the entire community to get involved.

"Our youth don't feel seen, don't feel connected and that is a city-wide issue and a city-wide concern for all of us frankly. When we've got young adults who don't see themselves in society, that's a real problem," Hanson said.

It's a problem Executive Director of Chicano Youth Center Javier Guzman describes as an epidemic.

"In the Latino community it's about 50% of the children, the sad thing is of those kids, 50% end up in prison," Guzman said.

While Guzman applauds Fresno Unified's effort in addressing dropout rates, he'd like to see a more comprehensive plan over the long-term.

"In 6 months, I don't think you can test interventions and get solid outcomes. That's just too short of time so we have questions about what the task force can accomplish in 6 months," he said.

Coming from a background in public health, Guzman would like to see the district approach the issue much like a disease: first diagnose the problem, recognize the symptoms and treat them early on.

While he is considering a position on the district's task force, he plans to form a county commission of his own made up of parents, students and members of the community.

Meantime, Fresno Unified's graduation task force will begin its work later this month.

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