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Trustee Champions Literacy Improvements at Bullard Area School Gathering

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There were lots of books to choose from Thursday at the Bullard Area Family Engagement Event. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)
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The central courtyard at Tenaya Middle School was a beehive of activity Thursday night during the first Bullard Area Family Engagement event that focused on literacy and health.

Fresno Unified School District Trustee Susan Wittrup

Fifty tables, some piled high with books, ringed the courtyard, offering parents and children access to information about health options, the district’s Parent University, and other topics.

In addition to free tacos, bicycle and backpack giveaways, there were plenty of other freebies on hand at the event, the first of what will be a series of family engagement events across the district.

The topics of literacy and health were selected by Bullard Area Trustee Susan Wittrup. She said she chose literacy because of the district’s new Literacy Initiative, which aims to have all students reading by the first grade.

“Literacy is being able to read and understand what you’re reading and thinking about it and enjoy it, and also be able to write,” she said. “It’s the most important thing that we teach in schools, is how to read. I believe reading is a civil right. I mean, this is something that everybody needs in a democracy, to support a democracy.”

Watch: FUSD Holds Literacy and Health Event in Bullard Region

Literacy Campaign’s Success Depends on You

Fresno Unified’s new campaign will need buy-in from school staffers, parents, students, and the entire community if it’s going to be successful, Wittrup said. But one key to success will be daily, ongoing assessments to measure student achievement, she said.

Assessing students once a month or once a semester delays school officials and parents from learning if individual students, or whole classes, are struggling, Wittrup said.

“We have to do what’s called progress monitoring. That means that in real time, we’re doing assessments in our classrooms to find out if what we taught today was mastered and if it wasn’t, what do we change up tomorrow to make sure it is,” she said. “We also have our, what I call our compass, with is our iReady scores. They give us a bigger picture of where we’re going as schools, as a district, as regions, and as groups of students. We need both of those.”

Community Help Encouraged

Ryan Duff

Tenaya Principal Ryan Duff said he was encouraged to see so many students and parents picking up lots of free books at the event.

As an elementary school principal before he became Tenaya’s principal in February 2020, Duff said that he saw the struggles of younger children trying to learn how to read. He said he encourages parents to read to their children, or have their children read to them, to improve their reading skills at home so they can be more successful in school.

By the time they reach middle school, students who are struggling to read will also be struggling with their academic classes, Duff said, so improving their reading skills is of paramount importance for them to be able to graduate from high school later.

He said he has urged all his school’s educators, not just the English teachers, to make literacy a top priority for every student.

“As a principal, I know that if they don’t leave my school literate with enough skills, that’s (graduation) not going to happen,” he said. “So we take that very seriously.”

Duff said he was glad to see that hundreds of students and parents turned out for Thursday’s event, as well as numerous nonprofits being on hand to support families. Community and neighborhood partnerships will be important for the success of students, he said.

“We know there’s a lot of community partners that want to work with schools on this too,” Duff said. “So as a principal, I feel like that’s an important part of my job, is who are those resources besides my teachers and my parents that are willing to come in and support. So I’m always open ears to any who have ideas and think outside the box. Whatever we’ve got to do to support these kids to be successful.”

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email