The Line is proud to have an exceptionally talented group of education leaders serve as advisors to the publication. We have brought together some of the brightest superintendents from across the country, experts in leadership, management and education policy, think-tank scholars and non-profit and former union leaders – all educators at heart. Each brings a unique voice to The Line, shaped by personal and professional experience, expertise, ideological leanings and passion. But all are united in their dedication to finding common ground that advances the future of public education.
Meet Editorial Advisory Board member Mike Hanson. He is the former superintendent of the Fresno Unified School District, where he was responsible for leading California’s fourth largest school district and overseeing the academic improvement of almost 74,000 students at 106 schools. He worked to rebuild the district over his nearly 12 year tenure by strategically investing $1 billion budget. Under Hanson’s leadership, the district dramatically improved graduation and college-going rates, while doubling the investment in early education programs.
He served six years as the president of the board of CORE Districts, a non-profit organization consisting of eight districts serving more than one million students in California. The CORE Districts work to be innovative, collaborative and uncommonly productive on behalf of their diverse students.
Among other activities, Hanson serves on the board of directors for Valley Children’s Hospital and California Education Partners. Hanson is a proud alumnus of UCLA as well as Harvard Graduate School of Education and Syracuse University’s School of Education.
Q: Why are you committed to work of The Line?
A: I agreed to serve on the editorial board because it is an opportunity to work with a great team of people to help advance civil discourse at a moment in our nation’s history when it is sorely needed.
“…to help advance civil discourse at a moment in our nation’s history when it is sorely needed.
Q: What do you hope education leaders will take away from The Line?
A: I hope they’ll pause and realize what a cherished position and seat they hold. Amid the daily work of standards and assessments and board meetings, The Line is a reminder of our collective higher charge: to support, continue and strengthen our democracy by educating all students. I think that’s never been more important than right now.
Q: How have you fostered civil discourse in your practice as a superintendent?
A: Answering this question takes me back to my early teaching and administrative experiences in upstate New York. In my first classroom of middle schoolers, and then at the two high schools I ran, inclusivity was at the core of the education experience for students. This came to me very naturally and helped to shape lesson plans, class themes, and school cultures. When there were differences I became the mediator and gave students and staff the tools they needed – long before they were called such – to talk through conflict and come to a resolution.
I also made clear the expectations and norms for behavior as a teacher, as a principal and later as a superintendent at Fresno United School District with oversight for 106 schools. At Fresno, our core beliefs and commitments were the backdrop for everything we did. They articulated what it meant to be good leaders and provide good teaching for all kids. Another one of our core beliefs was around diversity, the inherent and indisputable value that everyone offers and how we’re going to treat one another. These beliefs were hung on the walls everywhere so that whenever there was an issue of difference — we didn’t call it civil discourse – a teacher or a kid could point to our core values as a solid starting point for a conversation.
“These beliefs were hung on the walls everywhere so that whenever there was an issue of difference — we didn’t call it civil discourse – a teacher or a kid could point to our core values as a solid starting point for a conversation.
Q: You were once labeled as an education disrupter. What does that mean to you?
A: For me, disruptive means that I was creative with my team and that we were willing and able to look at longstanding challenges from a unique perspective and try different approaches to solving problems. Through my career, people have said, “I can’t believe you pulled that off.” I think “pulling it off” is a matter of persistently pushing against what has been in place. For example, a 2015 Century Foundation study aimed at measuring the concentration of poverty in cities reported that Fresno was among the cities with the highest concentrations of poverty by race for black, Latino and white poverty pockets.
Instead of using that as an excuse, we turned it around committed to fighting back with “concentrated education.” For our team, that meant creating more time with highly effective teachers – both more education time for students and more professional growth time for the teacher. We added 30 minutes of instruction time per day for kids, which amounted to 18 additional school days a year and about 6 months more of school for the average Kindergarten or Pre-K student before he or she reached middle school. For teachers, we added 10 additional days of professional learning. Then we allocated another full-time employee to each school to help support this approach.
The initiative started small then expanded districtwide. During my tenure, Fresno had 61 elementary schools in the district, and 40 of them ended up becoming part of this model we called designated schools. We aligned the effort with the governor’s new funding model, the Local Controlled Funding Formula (LCFF), that allocates differential money after a base grant. Additional money was awarded for students living in poverty, English learners or foster youth. For a district like Fresno, nearly 90 percent of our students were under LCFF. We received a lot of extra money to help educate kids, specifically, by supporting the concentrated education model. Teachers who taught at the designated schools were given a 10 percent pay increase that we negotiated into the teachers’ contract.
We used all of the tools in the box to get this going, including leveraging the LCFF, collective bargaining and substantial research from other schools we used as pilots.
The last report I saw showed progress faster than the remaining 21 schools that were not selected, which are less poor and have fewer foster youth and English learners than the 40 we chose. The teacher retention rate at the 40 schools was similarly strong through the first two years with maybe three teachers moving on. The terms of their contract allowed them to transfer within the district if they didn’t want to teach the extra teaching time or professional learning.
“For me, disruptive means that I was creative with my team and that we were willing and able to look at longstanding challenges from a unique perspective and try different approaches to solving problems.
Q: What do you believe is the most important characteristic of a strong education leader, a disruptor, if you will?
A: At their core, education leaders must be in service to belief in our youth. You have to believe in their capability, but also give them opportunity to grow and demonstrate what they can do. And counter to what many of my colleagues might say, I think leaders must focus on a couple of things and get really good at that. Today’s leaders absolutely must be responsible for every facet of the education system but not with equal intensity and focus.
To learn more about Mike’s work at Fresno United School District, check out our fall print issue of The Line.