Clovis · Education

An early look at the races for Clovis Unified School Board

With multiple seats on the Clovis Unified School District Board up for grabs in the November election, several candidates have lined up to take their shot at getting elected.

The CUSD Board is voted on an at-large basis, not by trustee area. This means voters in all portions of Clovis Unified will cast a vote in each of the of members meaning voters will cast a vote for any part of the district can vote for candidates in any area.

Area 2: A retirement

Long-time board member Ginny Hovsepian, who represents Area 2, is not running for reelection after serving on the board since 1991. 

Three candidates have filed papers to replace her: David DeFrank, Nicholas Lutton and Jacob Trumble. 

DeFrank is backed by Hovsepian, having received endorsements from Hovsepian as well as former Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian and Clovis City Councilmember Bob Whalen. 

He currently serves as an attorney for California Court of Appeal Justice Chuck Poochigian.

This is also not DeFrank’s first stab at public office. In 2012, he took the plunge for the California State Assembly in an open race ultimately won by now-Asm. Jim Patterson (R–Fresno).

DeFrank said that he knows his vision lines up with Hovsepian’s based off the conversations that he has had with her, and he is honored to have her support. 

“It’s a real honor honor to have her support, and I know that just from my conversations with her, she’s looking to support someone – board members need to have a backbone,” DeFrank said. You need to stand up for what’s right and for what the community wants, and at the same time not to micromanage.” 

With five kids who are in CUSD schools, DeFrank said he wants to be a part of a district at this level that has impressed him. 

“Through and through, Clovis has just impressed me, and it’s something I want to be a part of not only for my own kids, but just for all the kids in the district,” DeFrank said. “I just want to be a part of the amazing things they’re doing. It’s really nice to run for an office for a district that doesn’t need to be rescued. It doesn’t need to be turned around. It kind of just needs to be stewarded in its legacy and tradition of excellence.” 

As the district moves forward through the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic – including having to start the year with students learning in an online setting – DeFrank would like to see teachers, parents and students have the choice to return to the classroom when the state eventually allows it. 

Area 4: Battle to hold a newly-opened seat

Area 4 is open for the second time in the last year. Former board member Brian Heryford retired last fall, vacating the seat early. 

Instead of holding a special election to replace Heryford, the board took applications and interviewed five candidates, ultimately deciding to appoint Hugh Awtrey, who is running for reelection. 

In the first several months that Awtrey has been in office, he has had to hit the ground running and deal with the coronavirus pandemic, which is something that he wants to continue to be a part of. 

“It makes it that much more important to be on the board because we’re making some tough decisions,” Awtrey said. “It’s not a business as usual environment. It’s been quite a challenge. I want to continue to be involved in that process and help them move forward with decisions on the future and getting us through this crisis.” 

Before Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated that school districts in counties on the state’s coronavirus watch list hold class solely online, Awtrey and the board voted to allow parents to either send their children to school for in-person instruction or participate in online distance learning. 

“The challenge is trying to make things as normal as possible and give kids the quality education that Clovis expects to give their kids,” Awtrey said. “It’s really been tough to do in this environment that is not normal. Everything’s new. It’s the first time for all of this.” 

One of Awtrey’s challengers is Jonathan Holt, who was also one of the applicants for the position last year. 

Holt had decided to run for the board before Heryford retired and was not deterred when Awtrey was appointed. 

“I’m a firm believer that Clovis Unified helped shape who I am personally and professionally,” Holt said. “I feel I have an obligation to uphold the standard and values that have made the school district successful.” 

There are several areas that Holt would like to focus on as a board member: fiscal responsibility, maintaining local control, prioritizing the mental wellbeing of students, and improving career technical pathways for students. 

Holt agreed with the board’s decision to give parents the option of either sending their children to school or staying home and participating online and would like to see the same options presented when the state allows students to return to campus. 

“One thing that’s going to be important to evaluate is the delivery of curriculum to students on the online platform,” Holt said. “There was a lot of scrutiny around having an online platform, students getting packets and more monitoring from teachers. I think where we need to focus on is if we’re going to do online, how do we deliver live instruction? How do we deliver curriculum to the students.” 

Two other potential candidates are eyeing the seat: Sean Cohea and Noha Elbaz have pulled papers. 

Two other seats are also up for a vote: Area 5 and Area 7, which are currently held by Steven Fogg and Chris Casado, respectively. Both board members are currently running for reelection unopposed. 

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.