Fresno Unified’s self-protection racket is hurting our kids

If Fresno Unified is to break its cycle of mediocrity, it begins with searching high and low for a worthy Superintendent, writes Fresno Unified Board President Susan Wittrup.

Are we so conditioned to accept apathy in Fresno Unified that we are willing to walk by the very decisions that perpetuate the cycle of crime and poverty in our community?

Do we tune in to afternoon radio talk shows that rail against FUSD for entertainment alone? Or, are we as a community willing to step up and do something to stop the cycle?


Doing better for Fresno’s children is why as the Bullard area school board trustee and board president, I fully support a comprehensive search for the most qualified candidate to lead Fresno Unified.

Shame on this school board if we don’t cast a wide net to find the best and most qualified person to do the most important job in Fresno County!

To turn this district around, our next superintendent must have a proven track record of transformation. The skilled leader we need must demonstrate past success in improving academic achievement for all students (particularly in literacy and mathematics ), overseeing school district finances, working well with labor groups while protecting students’ futures, and leading successful bond measures to improve our dilapidated facilities.

That said, Fresno Unified should consider external candidates for two reasons:

  • To ensure the best-qualified candidates have an opportunity to apply.
  • To validate the selection of an internal candidate who had to compete with other strong candidates to get the job.

A narrow majority of my trustee colleagues don’t agree with this and decided to limit interviews to internal candidates during last Wednesday’s board meeting — without public discussion or transparency about the process.

Now, in an apparent effort to unnecessarily speed up the hiring, a special meeting has been scheduled for next Wednesday. On the agenda: interviewing candidates who work at the district behind closed doors for this all-important job.

It is up to the community and voters to hold the board majority accountable for this unacceptable decision. My sole interest in running for the school board after working in FUSD schools for 37 years was to extinguish the entrenched culture of failure.

This is the first opportunity to take a giant step in that direction, and the most important decision of the school board. Our kids need active engagement from parents and community leaders on this issue now. The stakes have never been higher.

The District’s Bureaucracy-Protecting Iron Dome

Like other bureaucracies, FUSD employs a powerful defensive system called the “status quo” that operates similarly to an iron dome, designed to track and defend against all threats to the leadership structure.

There is a culture perpetuated over the last 24 years that the FUSD administration is All-Knowing regardless of the ugly realities. Thus the conversation is not about students because if it were, the employment of FUSD leadership would be in question.

We conduct national searches for principals, coaches, and cooks. Our neighbor, Central Unified, recently conducted a national search with a strong inside candidate who ultimately was selected.

FUSD has qualified internal candidates who, if ultimately selected, will need the validation of a competitive interview process to gain the community’s trust. Whether the next superintendent is an internal or external candidate, the health of the position requires a rigorous climb to get there. I want to hear from all qualified, interested applicants, and so should you.

The achievement data and what is happening in FUSD will have lifelong impacts on the students and community as a whole. The School Board should embrace the community’s interest in this issue and capitalize on it to ensure the next superintendent can address their concerns and engage them in supporting staff as they educate Fresno students.

How You Can Make a Difference

Here’s what you can do to Stand Up for Kids:

  • Sign a petition calling for an external superintendent search
  • Show up and make your voice heard at 5 p.m. for the Wednesday, April 3, board meeting before trustees go into closed session to interview internal superintendent candidates.
  • Email FUSD School Board members at this link.
  • Share articles and voice your opinion on social media.
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