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Executive director's note: A profile in courage: Sanger USD governance team 

In my last column, I indicated that we would be starting a new occasional column—“Profiles in Courage”—in which we would profile school district and county board members and superintendents who are demonstrating exceptional courage and leadership in representing their students and communities. However, because of the honor recently bestowed upon a California educator, I’m pleased to devote my column to recognizing the superintendent and board of a district that truly meets the standard of achievement we were hoping to recognize—the Sanger Unified School District in Fresno County.

The district has deep and historic roots in the community. The city of Sanger dedicated the first building of the Sanger Union High School in 1901. The district has been a unified district since the late 1960s, and currently has 19 schools—including three charter schools, an alternative education school, a community day school and an adult school. The district has a highly diverse student population which includes 83 percent minority enrollment, 78 percent free and reduced lunch recipients, and 24 percent English language learners.

Considered a high-poverty district, Sanger Unified had an overall Academic Performance Index in 2004 of 657, and found itself in Program Improvement status under the No Child Left Behind Act. Since that time, the district has exited Program Improvement and raised its overall API to 805, which represents one of the highest achievement gains in the state. Honors that have been bestowed in the district in recent years include 13 schools having been designated as State Distinguished Schools, 12 as Title I Academic Achieving Schools, two as National Blue Ribbon Schools, and all 13 elementary schools being honored for their character development programs.

In February of this year, district Superintendent Marc Johnson was recognized by the American Association of School Administrators as its 2011 AASA National Superintendent of the Year. In granting the award to Superintendent Johnson, the association noted, “at a time when there is a great deal of focus on turning around schools and closing the achievement gap, Marc Johnson has walked the talk and has demonstrated that underachieving schools can turn around and become institutions where all children learn.” Superintendent Johnson was also recognized by AASA for restructuring the district’s schools into professional learning communities focused on student learning, high-quality instruction and teacher collaboration.

But as we all know, it takes much more than a strong superintendent and staff leadership team to create success for all children in our school districts—it takes a strong governance team. Susan Markarian, a board member in the Pacific Union Elementary School District in Fresno County (and CSBA’s Region 10 director), recently told me that Sanger Unified represents “a great example of a governance team that is working together to meet the needs of the district.”

It is my distinct and sincere pleasure to recognize the Sanger Unified School District governance team—Superintendent Marc Johnson, board President Peter R. Filippi, Vice President Tammy Wolfe, Clerk Jesse Vasquez and trustees Jim Gonzalez, James D. Karle, Kenneth R. Marcantonio, and Walter Villarreal—for their courage and determination in their stewardship of the Sanger Unified School District.

These are the types of stories that we want to keep telling—stories of great collaboration, great innovation and great achievement among our members. For years, we have struggled to define and drive the debates over public education on our own terms. The first step in our being able to accomplish that long-standing goal is to tell the hundreds—no, thousands—of success stories that are happening in our schools right now, even as schools have faced a battery of budget reductions that is unprecedented in the state’s history.

Please join me in congratulating Superintendent Johnson and the governing board of the Sanger Unified School District  for a job well done. And please, continue to send me your stories at