Educators dispute USA TODAY naming two Valley cities as worst place to raise kids

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A new report lists four California cities as the worst places in the country to raise children.

Two of those cities, Madera and Hanford, are located here in the Central Valley.

Madera Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Sisil is a lifelong Madera resident and long-time educator. She has a problem with the recent article listing her city in 14th place.

"To see these numbers was very alarming because I don't feel like that's the reality that I live in," said Sisil.

The study published by USAToday measured graduation rates, preschool enrollment, and violent crime. Sisil says at least two of the data points are wrong. High school graduation is at 90 percent instead of 82 percent and preschool enrollment is at least at 34 percent versus 18 percent. But she does admit there is always room for improvement.

"Our current programs with an AM and a PM, that's a limiting factor that I would say is probably a deterrent to some of the parents in Madera simply because they need full day options," said Sisil.

Hanford Corcoran also made the list at number 16. The report lists preschool enrollment at 35.2 percent. Educators say getting families to realize the importance of early learning has sometimes been a challenge.

"We have a large population of English language learners and that's a challenge, for educators especially when kids get to schools and haven't started acquiring," said Scott Waite with First 5 Kings County.

Research has proven that early learning is critical for improving reading as well as social skills.

Sisil says the difference is evident at Madera Unified, "They are scoring on average 10 percent higher in kindergarten than kids who did not go to preschool."

The study also listed poverty as a major factor in student achievement.

Local educators say they want families to know that several state and federal programs are heavily subsidized to help them succeed.
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