District a Better Place

A few months back, longtime valley educator Marc Johnson reminded a full board room of a Yogi Berra quote, "If you don't know where you're going, you might end up somewhere else." This adage continues to resonate as I reflect on where our district is today, and where we came from nearly 12 years ago. When I accepted the appointment as superintendent, the students who are now the class of 2017 were first graders. Having watched students from the vantage point of a parent and superintendent, I can confidently say that Fresno Unified is a better place for our youth today than it was nearly 12 years ago.

Fresno Unified's graduation rate has reached an all-time record of 83.8% -- a 14% increase since 2009. Despite being one of the poorest districts in the nation, Fresno Unified's graduation rates exceed the state and national average. The district has also seen growth in state test scores. In 2016, for the first time in 15 years, scores increased across ALL grade levels, in ALL subject areas tested, for ALL significant student groups. Attendance rates are up, and behaviors leading to suspensions and expulsions are down.

Opportunities to enrich the lives of our students have increased and our district is collaborating as never before with a variety of partners -- City Hall, the Housing Authority, departments at the county of Fresno, healthcare partners, pastors, non-profits, youth-led organizations, sister school districts, and our higher education institutions, to name a few.

The reasons for this progress stem from the focused and unified commitment of trustees and leaders, teachers, staff, parents, and the entire Fresno community.

Our focus sharpened in April 2007 when a team of trustees and district leaders developed and approved a set of core beliefs and commitments as well as the district goals. The district emerged from the brink of bankruptcy -- when the state was considering a takeover -- to one of the most financially healthy districts in California, with strong reserves that allowed the district to prioritize students and offer some of the most competitive salaries and benefits in the region.

Through taxpayer-supported bond Measures K and Q, we have built seven new schools and upgraded and modernized hundreds of existing classrooms over the past decade. Just take a drive around Fresno, and you will find ample evidence of these investments. Today you can see the last of the Measure Q investments, building new state-of-the art career technical education classrooms at Duncan Polytechnical High School, a school with a 98% graduation rate. In November, the community demonstrated that quality educational facilities are a priority, renewing its confidence in Fresno Unified as a responsible steward of public resources and passing Measure X with 67% voter support. Thank you all.

Many of our students walk onto our campuses from challenging circumstances, and not all students respond to standard educational approaches. While teachers deliver quality instruction and hold students to high expectations, meaningful adult relationships do make a difference.

As my longtime friend and colleague from the Fresno Housing Authority Tracewell Hanrahan has said, "So very many more people in this community, beyond the great teachers and great staff of Fresno Unified, are humbled and proud to wake up every day and ask themselves, 'What am I going to do today for 74,000 kids?'"

The work is about adults valuing students and showing them what humanity can be. Our school campuses are places where district and community come together to improve student outcomes while building stronger and healthier youth, families, and neighborhoods. We've been doing it together for almost 12 years and have made tremendous strides. With the commitment of all of you, I know this progress will continue because Fresno Unified knows exactly where it's headed -- forward.