How do we make Fresno Unified great? Let’s start with a stadium at each high school – GV Wire

As a school psychologist and former special education teacher who worked at Fresno Unified for 35 years, I study student learning. A stadium at every high school makes perfect sense to me. Could it be an opportunity to bring ingrained change to a failing school system?

Suzanne Wittrup


At the moment only McLane and Sunnyside have stadiums. The five remaining high schools are Bullard, Edison, Fresno High, Hoover, and Roosevelt. Fresno high schools are at the heart of the diverse communities they serve. Each should stand as a beacon of excellence to encourage, inspire and guide students of all ages towards graduation.

Among the myriad of practices proven to improve educational outcomes, the establishment of high school stadiums synergistically combines three powerhouses: community and parent engagement + state-of-the-art facilities + strong athletics programs. Studies show that each approach, taken on its own, produces positive outcomes in terms of attendance, behavior, and grades.

I got the epiphany about stadiums while riding my bike through Bullard neighborhoods and listening to voters as a candidate for the Fresno Unified school board. I learn a lot from parents, many of whom are Bullard alumni. A father recently asked, “Do you know how many games Bullard has played since it opened in 1955?” The answer, “a home game,” was both surprising and disheartening.

Stadiums connect school communities

I vividly pictured the fall evening as he described it from his porch on Browning Avenue. Neighbors walked to the game with lawn chairs, stopping along the way to visit friends who were grilling in the front yards. High schoolers strolled in groups to the game, accepting plates of grilled meats, macaroni salad, and soda pop along the way. Someone had set up a fruit stand at the crosswalk, and there were a couple of taco trucks down the street. Teachers took tickets while coaches and dads huddled together, their voices a whisper. The marching band started and the whirl of pompoms from lively cheerleaders got the fans on their feet. From the seniors watching the grandkids play, to the freshman attending the first high school game on a date, it really has brought them all together, if only for one night.

Home stadiums, which host track and field events, graduation ceremonies, school parties, and community events, bring together neighbors who might otherwise never interact.

This story has implications for the future of our children and the future of Fresno. Mayor Jerry Dyer recently tied Fresno’s future to school effectiveness when he said, “The truth is, our city’s success depends largely on our educational institutions.”

Home stadiums, which host track and field events, graduation ceremonies, school parties, and community events, bring together neighbors who might otherwise never interact. The resulting relationships provide a foundation for supporting the education, safety and overall well-being of children in this community.

Meaningful parental involvement and community partnerships around neighborhood schools raise all vessels to accelerate student progress and is perhaps one of the most powerful but underutilized approaches we know of. Schools with strong community ties have higher test scores, greater parent involvement, fewer discipline issues, better attendance, and higher levels of student, staff, and parent satisfaction.

Check out the image below of Madera South High School Stadium for an example of what I have in mind.

Madera South High School Stadium. (TETER Architects & Engineers)

Fresno Unified has the tools to empower any high school

It’s possible to make this happen in Fresno Unified, and not only is it possible, it’s one of many strategic steps needed to accelerate student achievement across the city. For once, lack of money is not an obstacle. With an annual budget of nearly $1 billion, nearly double what it was six years ago, ample reserves in the bank and more than $684 million in one-time federal and state pandemic funding on the way, stadiums, facility improvements and strong Athletic programs may become a reality at every Fresno high school in the near future. There’s a good chance Fresno Unified can leverage existing spaces.

I’m hopeful about the Fresno schools. While solid athletics programs (and other extracurricular activities) may not be the answer to all the problems plaguing our schools, they do address more than you might expect. Strong athletics programs with state-of-the-art facilities will attract the best and brightest teachers, coaches and principals.

Families will be clamoring to buy homes in Fresno neighborhoods — because of the local schools, not in spite of them. The deep bonds often formed through participation in sport inspire graduates to give back as teachers, coaches and mentors. For some, sport is the only reason they even go to school. Fresno Unified recognizes the importance of developing strong athletic programs as stated in their Mission Goal 2: All students will engage in arts, activities and sports.

Watch out for the 2022 school board elections

Parents and voters, the future of our children depends on the upcoming school board races at Fresno Unified. Five out of seven board seats are up for election within a year.

I encourage you to make your voice heard and take some time to meet with your local trustee and the nominees. The stakes are too great for our children and the future of Fresno to sit by.

About the author

Susan Wittrup, a 35-year school psychologist with the Fresno Unified School District, is running for the Bullard High-Area seat on the school board.

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