It seems that most people at Fresno High School know that a certain stairwell at the school is a locus for bad behavior, including the recent explosion of a “large firecracker” that injured a teacher and several students and frightened others. The explosion came only days after a phoned bomb threat, which thankfully turned out to be a hoax.
Want to check out earlier School Zone columns and other education news stories? You’ll find them at Nancy Price’s School Zone Facebook page.
It’s not just a make-out zone: The smell of marijuana wafts through the stairwell and drug deals take place, members of the Fresno High community told trustees at a March board meeting where concerns over the school’s safety were aired.
Problems in the stairwell, which leads to the orchestra room and an arts classroom, have been documented for decades. In fact, a Fresno High student told trustees that one of her teachers, a Fresno High alum, encountered the same issues during her student years.
All these years later, the stairwell continues to be a symbol of ongoing security concerns at the city’s oldest high school.
Also in School Zone:
- How long will it take to build a fence around Bullard?
- Actor-activist John Cho will appear at Fresno City College Speakers Forum.
- CMAC is seeking applications from young documentary filmmakers for the Youth Voices program.
- Hooray for Hollywood: Fresno Unified career tech certificate could give students a leg up in Tinseltown.
- Clovis medical school’s student chapter gets a national award.
Security Upgrades Underway
Changes, including the addition of cameras and extra staff, are in the works, administrators said at the meeting.
But trustees expressed frustration when told that installation of cameras might not happen until June, after the end of the school year, and that staff couldn’t say whether the stairwell in question was even in line for a camera.
Bullard area Trustee Susan Wittrup said new equipment and staff are all well and good, but changing the mindset of school officials is even more important.
“Our primary obligation is to keep our students and staff safe. And I know that this board has made numerous investments in safety. But I don’t think that that in itself will do the job. And I really expect a culture of accountability around safety, a sense of urgency around safety,” Wittrup said. “I have one question that I think just speaks to this incident, and that is, if everyone at Fresno High knows that that stairwell is problematic, why on earth wasn’t there a CA (campus safety assistant) stationed there?”
Superintendent Bob Nelson’s response: “I can only speak to the reality that, I mean, obviously, if there’s a real need to have cameras in that area and have that constantly monitored, we would do that. I mean, that sounds like that’s been an ongoing, lingering issue for a while.”
CSAs Don’t Stand Still
Amy Idsvoog, the district’s executive officer for health services, safety, and emergency responses, said campus safety assistants have a lot of ground to cover at Fresno High to maintain safety across the entire campus.
Campus safety assistants — there are typically seven to eight assigned to each comprehensive high school — need to keep moving, Idsvoog said.
“They don’t generally stay in the same spot the entire time because then that leaves some of their space uncovered or we don’t have eyes in the many places that we need,” she said.
At a safety workshop for the board later in March, the district presented a series of security proposals, including adding more cameras and vaping sensors, creating new positions of executive director of safety, a second safety manager, three new regional safety specialists on top of the four positions already budgeted, and adding a campus safety assistant at every elementary school and extra CSAs at the comprehensive high schools.
How much would that cost? District spokeswoman Nikki Henry told GV Wire she couldn’t say, at least at this point.
“Based on feedback from our recent Board workshop, we’re fine-tuning our safety budget requests and any associated costs,” Henry said in an email. “The safety budget is slated to go to the board for discussion on April 26, so we expect the final proposal will be completed closer to that date.”
Bullard Fence Still on Drawing Board
Another safety and security project that’s had a particularly long runway is the new fence at Bullard High School. Right now the school’s perimeter fence is surrounded by a waist-high chain link fence that hasn’t been much of a hindrance to neighborhood ne’er-do-wells.
Whereas most of the other comprehensive high schools are surrounded by higher wrought-iron structures — although open gates have been a security problem this year at Fresno High — funding for Bullard’s fence was delayed several years ago as a result of animosity between then-Trustee Terry Slatic and other board members.
The board last month learned in a staff communcation that the fencing project is moving forward, albeit not on a fast track. School officials are conducting community meetings to get input before developing a revised plan, which then would need to go back to the Division of the State Architect for review and approval.
Barring further delays, the project bid award could be voted on by the board in October, with construction to take 10 months, which would have the new fence ready for Bullard students in August 2024.
The project cost could be somewhat heftier than the original $1.2 million estimated in February 2021, when the board rejected the project on a 4-2 vote. Construction costs are up to 40% higher, the board learned in the project update.
Bullard parent Marcelino Valdez Jr. said he wonders whether fence projects at other high schools required as much deliberation — and delay.
“If this is not the process the other schools had to go through it would be very telling as to how they feel about student safety at BHS,” he told GV Wire in a text message. “It’s sad that the District chose to install solar parking stalls throughout the district (for teachers to have shaded parking and some cost savings) rather than fortify the schools to prevent or detour would-be assailants looking to harm students. This just goes to tell you where their priorities are.”
‘Star Trek’ Actor Set for Fresno City College Event
Actor-activist-author John Cho is scheduled to appear at the Fresno City College Speakers Forum at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, April 18, in the Old Administration Building auditorium.
“A Conversation with John Cho” will be moderated by Fresno City English instructor Lee Herrick, who currently is California’s Poet Laureate.
Cho, a native of South Korea who moved to Los Angeles as a child, graduated from UC Berkeley after studying English literature and then taught high school in LA, where he also began acting with the Asian American theater company, East West Players. His film roles include Harold in the 2004 comedy “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” and as Hikaru Sulu in the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise.
In April 2020 Cho wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, “Coronavirus reminds Asian Americans like me that our belonging is conditional.” His first book, “Troublemaker,” was released in March 2022 and is told from the Korean American perspective of 12-year-old Jordan during the LA riots.
Cho’s appearance at the Speakers Forum is sponsored by Building Healthy Communities and is in association with FCC Asian American Month activities. Admission is free, and the event also will be livestreamed. To register for the Zoom livestream, go to https://scccd.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_yhX-zB7jTn62L6uRF1SzTA.
Young Filmmakers Sought for CMAC Program
The Community Media Access Collaborative, also known as CMAC, is accepting applications for its fourth annual Youth Voices program.
The 10-week documentary filmmaking program is open to Central Valley junior and senior high students 18 and younger.
Students will be guided by CMAC staff as they learn how to use media to tell stories of societal significance through documentaries. Ideal applicants will be students with interests in media, writing, storytelling, journalism, filmmaking, civic engagement, and public service.
CMAC will provide professional video production equipment, mentorship, and instruction for students as they develop and produce their documentaries. They will also receive a $1,000 stipend and a CMAC membership that provides access to training opportunities and equipment for one year after the program ends.
Applications, which are available on the CMAC website at www.cmac.tv/youthvoices/, will be accepted through May 8. CMAC will host a virtual Q&A session about the program and application process at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 20. RSVP at this link. The program is underwritten by The California Endowment.
Speaking of Filmmaking …
Fresno Unified students who dream of careers in television and film could start out on the first rung of the industry ladder as a production assistant thanks to a district career technical education program.
At the April 12 board meeting, trustees will consider a contract addendum with Kincade Productions, LLC, a San Francisco-based company that provides industry-recognized certification for production assistants. The original $15,000 contract, which took effect on July 1, 2022, covered video production students at Sunnyside and Fresno high schools. The $10,435 addendum will expand the agreement to include video production students at Hoover and McLane high schools.
Medical Students Get National Recognition
The California Health Sciences University College of Osteopathic Medicine was honored recently by the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, the ACOFP Foundation, and the Auxiliary to the ACOFP.
The college’s student chapter, one of five recognized nationally, won the Most Improved Chapter Award for having the biggest increase in GOLD (Guiding Osteopathic Leadership and Development) points from the prior year.
GOLD points are earned through a variety of activities, including lunch or dinner lectures, workshops, fundraising, and community service/volunteering.
(Disclosure: GV Wire Publisher Darius Assemi and other family members founded and own California Health Sciences University.)