‘Don’t limit the opportunities’: Councilmembers want Fresno Unified to choose the right superintendent

FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – As the search for a new superintendent for Fresno Unified School District continues, a pair of Fresno City Council members have expressed concerns about how the school board plans to choose the new superintendent.

Fresno Unified announced in January that Superintendent Bob Nelson will depart from his position at the end of July. Nelson accepted a tenure-track faculty position at the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at Fresno State.

City Councilmembers Mike Karabasi and Garry Bredefeld held a joint press conference on Tuesday to reinforce the need to find the right superintendent for Fresno Unified. Karabasi said that choosing a new superintendent is one of the most monumental decisions the school board will make.

“They asked: what are you looking for in a superintendent? But one thing that was really important to me is let’s expand the pool of candidates so that you don’t limit the opportunities,” Karabasi said.

Karabasi says that local is great, but as a policymaker they have had to search for new directors and executive directors and have always had the application pool open, and for a process like this, you don’t want to give the illusion to the applicants that it’s a predetermined process.

According to Bredefeld, the school district, the school board, and the current superintendent have failed the 70,000 kids attending Fresno Unified – and failed them for four years. He said that Nelson was awarded for his failure by the school board by extending his contract.

Bredefeld says Nelson quitting leaves the school board with their most important decision.

“Rather than doing a comprehensive statewide and national search for a proven leader with a record of results and success the school board appears poised to double down on failing our kids in Fresno by wanting to make a quick decision and hire from within Bob Nelson’s administration, which will only continue the failures,” said Bredefeld.

Bredefeld said the school board must not be focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. He also said that the next superintendent should not be hired based on race, sex, or skin color.

“Leadership must have a clear-eyed focus on teaching children the basics of reading, math, science, English, and not critical race theory and a bunch of a destructive woke crap that person must be willing to ensure the safety of every classroom,” Bredefeld said. “The classroom needs to be an environment for learning, not social justice.”

He also claimed that Nelson himself is hand-picking his replacement directly from his own administration.

Nelson said that’s not the case.  He said they have invited everyone from city council to meetings focused on how they will find a new superintendent, but Bredefeld did not attend.

Nelson also said they are working with a firm to help find his replacement and make sure it is done fairly.

“What they contracted with the Leadership Associates Firm to do was to gather community feedback, and the community feedback said a couple of different things. They want someone who’s familiar with the valley and understands what it means to be from Fresno as well as someone who has served in classrooms, has lead schools, and has been serving at the district level as well,” Nelson said.

In a statement released by Fresno Unified on Tuesday, it states that following more than a dozen listening sessions with the community, the top priorities for the next superintendent are:

  • Strong educational background and administrative credentials

  • Experience throughout a district system and ties to the Central Valley

  • Transparent and authentic communicator

  • Strategic vision using data analysis

  • Strong community ties and experience with parent and family engagement strategies

  • Commitment to diversity

  • Leadership skills and a commitment to accountability

  • Innovative and adaptable leader

There will be a FUSD Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday and will likely discuss how their search will proceed during that meeting. Karbassi said while that meeting is on the agenda, it is during a closed session.

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