Demonstrating Innovation in the Classroom

Kathleen Giannandrea is an instructional coach at Rosy High School in the Sanger Unified School District, where she has now held a position for over 26 years. She performed a 5 year stint for the Fresno County Office of Education, working with AVID, a program which imparted upon her many useful teaching skills. Giannandrea was fortunate to have multiple pathways which continuously brought her back to Fresno State. 

She transferred from College of The Sequoias with her associates degree before eventually earning her bachelor’s and obtaining her teaching credentials from Fresno State in 1994. After completing her work with the Fresno County Office of Education and returning to her teaching position at Rosy High School, Giannandrea discovered that her department was offering support for instructors who wanted to pursue master’s degrees. Fresno State had partnered with Giannandrea’s distinct, in the hopes of helping elementary, junior high, and High School teachers complete their higher education goals. The program allowed professors to travel to the office on campus and provide instruction there instead of forcing the busy teachers to commute all the way to Fresno State. In 2018, Giannandrea graduated with her master’s degree in education, with a reading language arts focus, after studying with the cohort for two and a half years. She was one of only seven High School teachers who were able to successfully complete the program. 

While pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Fresno State, Giannandrea was a full time employee at the Visalia Times Delta working 38 to 40 hours a week in a newspaper system while also commuting to Fresno on the daily. Struggling to balance all areas of her life, Giannandrea learned that if you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it work. Her only remaining parent had passed shortly before she transferred from College of The Sequoias to Fresno State and she unfortunately was not able to navigate the financial aid system in place at the time, so instead, she paid out of pocket for her entire education. Giannandrea remembers the constant sleepless nights she would experience while working toward her first degree. She did not have the traditional college experience in the sense that she didn’t live in the dorms or attend student parties, something that Giannandrea is grateful for since she believes it fit her personality and allowed her to focus more on her studies. 

Giannandrea’s journey toward her master’s degree is even more vivid in her mind and came with its share of lessons, as well. One of the first things she learned is that expectations and beliefs held by professors in higher education are much different than those harbored by K-12th public education professionals. Giannandrea began learning about critical literacy concepts while also being taught inventive, research-based methods to capture the attention of students and encourage them to read and write in a real-world context. After coming back to Rosy High school, she found that it was exceptionally difficult to implement her learning since many of the faculty members were still so entrenched in the traditional methods of teaching that had been used since the late 1800’s. Giannandrea was slowly able to meld what she learned during her master’s program with her in-class curriculum, demonstrating new and innovative teaching methods to her other coworkers. Another lesson that Giannandrea learned is that research remains vital even after one has completed their education. She is currently the department chair and a full-time instructional coach for the English Language Arts department at Rosy High School. Giannandrea is part of a professional learning community where she asks what goals or learning outcomes parents have for their children and then researches ways to help her students connect more with their coursework. She participated in a project based on youth participatory action research where she helped students learn how to become competent researchers, both in the classroom and in their personal lives. 

Over the years, Giannandrea has won numerous awards and medals for her academic achievements, both as a student and as an educator, but the accomplishment which she is most proud of is her ability to aid other educators, something that her master’s degree helped come to fruition. Thanks to Fresno State and their creation of a remote master’s cohort program, Giannandrea was able to obtain a wealth of leadership experience which helped to prepare her for her position as an instructional leader. She learned the importance of documenting change, as well as how to develop systems to support student learning. Having mentors in the master’s program also benefited Giannandrea tremendously, since there were many instances when she came across a situation where she was uncertain how to proceed. She was fortunate to stay in touch with her professors, since whenever she encountered a predicament, Giannandrea would simply email them and receive a solution by the end of the day. Giannandrea is forever grateful for the relationships she built with her colleagues and the immense support she continues to receive from Fresno State. 

(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing student employed by the Kremen School of Education and Human Development .)

Honing One’s Craft: A Commitment to Education

In the fall of 2002, Jesus Renteria arrived at Fresno State after enrolling in a bachelor’s program for English education, with a double major in Chicano Latino studies. Renteria graduated in 2006 and then one year later, in 2007, obtained his teaching credentials. While at Fresno State, Renteria learned many valuable lessons such as how to communicate effectively and speak up for himself when he was confused about a project or an assignment. He learned to advocate for his own education and to make sure his academic needs were met. 

Something Renteria is most proud of is the fact that he was able to start teaching immediately after earning his credentials. He began instruction for the Hanford school district in 2007 and is now in his fifteenth year of teaching. Adapting to the role of a teacher has afforded Renteria many leadership opportunities such as being the ELD lead for the Reading Intervention program. He has also learned to work with several specific bodies of students and has adapted to the common core standards, being able to successfully apply them in his classroom. 

Fresno State aided Renteria in many ways along his journey, one of the biggest influences being the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project. He would constantly get emails to attend workshops that helped writers with their craft. In 2016, Renteria began regularly attending some of these workshops, something that helped him grow and flourish as a teacher. Once he became more involved, Renteria was invited to attend the San Joaquin Valley Writing Summer Institute. After completing the course in 2018, Renteria became part of the Writing Project at Fresno State and was able to connect with other educators from all over the country. He has been able to collaborate with them on different strategies for how to work with ELD students and also brainstorm varying methods to help students cope with the pandemic, inventing new ways to ease the transition to online learning. The Writing Project helped Renteria learn how to teach English in a way that is more accessible to students and more engaging, helping build his confidence as he gradually pursues more online workshops and Zoom book study programs. He is grateful for all the assistance the Kremen school has given to him and how they continue to support teachers of color, especially those who are first generation. 

(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing student employed by the Kremen School of Education and Human Development .)

Teaching Through the Power of Nature

The education and guidance of young children are two things which Stephen Bock, director of the Scout Island Outdoor Education Center and current lecturer at Fresno State, has always been passionate about. Even as a youth, he knew that he wanted to teach elementary-aged children, but at the time, such a career endeavor was frowned upon for individuals of his gender, as men did not typically obtain positions working in child-centered classroom settings. Bock’s journey in education was fraught with many difficulties and setbacks as he struggled to pursue the path he set out upon. 

After graduating from high school, Fresno State was Bock’s first choice for a university. He had received a scholarship based on his family’s income, however, the summer before he was scheduled to enroll, his father got a raise, causing the scholarship to be withdrawn. Instead, he ended up attending Reedley College for two years, getting his General ED classes out of the way. Once he received his Associates degree, he returned to Fresno State with the intention of obtaining his teaching credentials and pursuing a degree in child education. After meeting with an advisor, however, he became heavily discouraged. The guidance counselor explained to him that it was a bad idea to become a teacher since he was a man and also because he would not be able to support a family on his income. At the time, teachers made roughly $6,000 to $6,500 a year, a figure that would have put him in the poverty line. His counselor also explained that he would also have to get a secondary credential which would require additional coursework. 

Realizing his options were incredibly slim, Bock chose to instead pursue a degree in philosophy. During the time of his studies, Bock got married and soon found out his wife was pregnant. With a heavy heart, and only six units away from earning his degree, Bock dropped out of college and began working full time to support his growing family. 

Eventually, salaries for teachers became sustainable and they began hiring men to fill elementary education positions. Bock came back to Fresno State after hearing about these changes and finished up the six units he had previously not taken. Once those were out of the way, he started pursuing coursework under a program called Option Four which allowed him to work during the day while taking classes at night. After obtaining his teaching credentials through this method, Bock began teaching for the Selma Unified School District. Along the way, he heard about a program called the Central Valley Science Project, which was an organization collecting teams of teachers from various schools to learn about environmental education. Bock signed up for this program in the fall of 1992, along with one of his other colleges, a choice which opened many doors in the world of academia. Through this program, he met Dr. Marshall, an individual who would make a lasting impact on him and help him attain his current wealth of knowledge. After finishing the program, Dr. Marshall invited Bock back to give a series of presentations over the next couple of years. Eventually, Bock became one of the leaders of the Central Valley Science project, working alongside Dr. Marshall for nearly 19 years. His experience with the cohort demonstrated what teaching was all about and helped to aid Bock in his profession, as well as, easing his eventual transition to Fresno State. 

In 1996, Bock won the award of Fresno County Educator of the year, a massive accomplishment in such a short period of time. A year later, in 1997, he became recognized as California teacher of the year, a level of excellence that few people have ever achieved. Seeing these accomplishments, Jim Marshall decided that he wanted Bock to become involved in the professional development of other teachers since he provided such an intricate understanding of the theories of education. Bock soon found himself as an educator within the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at Fresno State. 

Bock reflects upon some of the valuable lessons he learned at Fresno State, both as a student and later, as a professor. One of the most vital realizations Bock encountered was valuing the diversity of his students and appreciating what each of their unique backgrounds had to offer. He learned that when you value diversity, you learn more about the world around you, and accumulate knowledge on topics you wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. In the current classes Bock teaches at Fresno State, he engages closely with his students, creating a welcoming atmosphere that encourages them to share openly and be proud when talking about their different lifestyles and backgrounds. 

As a result of Bock’s experiences with the Central Valley Science Project, and also thanks to his Masters in Science Education, he began to focus on educating students particularly in the field of environmental science. He was offered the opportunity to teach Science Method courses at Fresno State and eventually won 75 courses in the credential Program. Because of his successful teaching experience, Bock became the science coordinator for the County Office of Education, which gave him the opportunity to impact teachers throughout the county through professional development, and also with curriculum. This created a direct connection to his current position as the director of the Outdoor Education Center at Scout. 

The Scout Island Outdoor Education Center houses a program called “Walking Where They Lived” that allows children to understand the lives of the Yokuts Indians who lived on Scout Island for hundreds of years before the settlers arrived. So far, Bock has helped to build a recreation village that has two different types of structures, as well as salmon drying racks and an acorn greenery. They are planning to build more in the future with participation from Table Mountain Casino. We encourage children to become engaged by facilitating what it was like for the Native Americans who lived out here long ago. We have a number of artifacts that we are able to share with them, such as the remnants from a type of basketball game they would play and the cuttings of many different types of medicinal plants which they would use to create balms. Bock also explains to the children about how the Yokuts didn’t like the heat any more than we do so they would go up to the mountains in the summertime, build different structures out of the materials available up there, and then, when the weather cooled down, they would come down from the mountains and gather the acorns from Scout Island, thus having a sustainable food supply for the following year. The facility also has access to some traditional songs that the Yokuts would have sung and also some musical instruments that they might have played, which helps to give the students a sense of how to interact with the environment and how their lives were actually not that different from ours. 

Before Bock became the director of the Scout Island Outdoor Education Center, however, he was partnered with Jim Marshall on a project at Fresno State called the NASA program. The program was a partnership between the Kremen School of Education and Human Development and the NASA space corporation. The goal was to allow teachers to understand what NASA does by hosting demonstrations at Fresno State. NASA trainers and astronauts would come down and engage the teachers during a day-long study of some of the concepts they were learning about through space exploration. These were conducted multiple times during the year so that the teachers could see a variety of different perspectives on a number of different topics. During that time, Bock was also running an internship program in the Kremen School which was integrally tied to NASA. The interns themselves were travelling to Moffett Field and also to the Ames Research Center in the Bay area. Bock was also able to personally train for a simulated NASA mission, where he was the pilot of the space shuttle who navigated the crew successfully through the stages of the process. 

Looking back fondly on his career, Bock is grateful for all that Fresno State has done to aid him in his path, particularly the guidance that the Kremen School offered during his time as a student. He encourages current students to take advantage of all that Kremen has to offer, including their numerous programs that help aid future educators. He describes Kremen as a candle that will light their way as long as they continue to put in the effort to pursue it. With the knowledge offered by the university, these students will be able to develop a strong foundation to catapult them into their respective career fields. 

(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing student employed by the Kremen School of Education and Human Development .)

A Day in the Life of a Principal: Cindy Monroy

Running a school is no easy task, especially when it comes to balancing the needs of teachers, students, parents and the surrounding community, while also maintaining a well-rounded curriculum. Principal Cindy Monroy gives us an inside look at how she manages to keep up with her sometimes overwhelming schedule while still making time to actively participate in the lives of her students. 

During the early morning hours between 8a.m. – 9a.m., Principal Monroy checks in with her assigned secretary to see what upcoming engagements are listed on her calendar, while also responding to emails that require immediate attention. She then types up a routine morning announcement which is aired across campus. Principal Monroy finishes the morning off by welcoming all of her students by name as they head to class. 

Between 9a.m. – 12.pm., Principal Monroy holds a meeting with the Student Accountability Team which specializes in interventionists for math, reading, and language acquisition, where she is able to discuss student progress and program efficacy. Sometimes, she may also be found at the district office, meeting with the Health & Safety Team, The Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Committee (CIA), or the district-wide leadership team. When she is not in a meeting, she enjoys visiting classrooms and engaging with staff and students. 

For Principal Monroy, lunch breaks are unorthodox and mostly nonexistent. When not in a meeting, she usually leaves the office and supervises lunch duty, sometimes bringing her morning snack and joining students in the cafeteria while they tell her about their day. It is rare that she is allowed to sit down and have an uninterrupted lunch. Lunchtime for a Principal is often a working lunch or lunch on the go. If she is in the office, she sits at her desk and eats lunch, while reviewing emails or signing documents. Oftentimes, she has pending conversations with her counselor or vice-principal as they join in on a working lunch because they know that at any time, an unexpected situation may arise and Principal Monroy likes to stay ahead of those possibilities. The end of her day concludes by wrapping up any necessary discipline reports, making calls home, responding to emails and preparing her schedule for the following day.

During the evenings, Principal Monroy is equally busy, as she strives to catch up with other ongoing obligations. On Monday evenings, she rushes home to log into her doctoral classes which run from 5p.m. through 10p.m. On Tuesday/Thursday evenings, she attends Board Meetings once a month, and when she is not engaged in one of these meetings, she and her husband split the chauffeuring duties, taking one child to soccer practice while the other tackles gymnastics class. On Wednesdays, she likes to stay connected with other professionals in the Central Valley and currently serves as President to the Region 3 Central Valley California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators (CV-CALSA). She reviews and plans for the work that they are doing as an organization. She hosts and facilitates monthly Executive Board meetings to help continue their work in the Central Valley. On Fridays, all students and staff leave campus by 3:30pm, which allows plenty of time for her to prepare the Principal’s Newsletter for the following week, filling it with updates and a calendar of events. She finally heads home after an eventful day to enjoy pizza and have a movie night with her family. 

While the life of a principal is indeed demanding and time-consuming, Principal Monroy wouldn’t have it any other way

She enjoys seeing her work make a positive impact on both the lives of her students and educators. By maintaining a personal connection with the academic community, she ensures that the concerns and needs of those who depend on her are sufficiently met. Principal Monroy looks forward to watching her school grow and flourish even more in the coming years. 

(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing Student Who is Employed by The Kremen School of Education and Human Development)

Alumna develops new K-12 resources for teaching Native American histories

Determined to improve the way K-12 students are educated about the histories of Indigenous peoples, Fresno State alumna Marie Casao (Narragansett) has developed new resources for California teachers.

She curated a curriculum for educators who aim to teach about American Indian tribes and their relationships with ecosystems. This list of educational resources is directly tied to the intellectual knowledge of tribal peoples and their environments.

Casao, who completed Fresno State’s curriculum and instruction graduate program and earned a certificate in educational technology, is a Central Valley native and grew up in Lindsay, 60 miles south of Fresno.

While working as a teacher at a Valley elementary school, Casao, a member of the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island, said she felt unnerved when she saw first-hand how teachers referenced Indigenous peoples in the past tense and had students dress up as an “Indian” for a day. “We don’t teach about what it is to be Native in a modern society,” Casao said.

After enrolling in the Master of Arts in Education option in curriculum and instruction at Fresno State, Casao met Dr. Leece Lee-Oliver (Blackfeet/Choctaw/Wyandot/Cherokee), director of the American Indian Studies program and assistant professor at Fresno State.

Lee-Oliver assisted Casao with opportunities such as building a virtual learning science curriculum with the Fresno American Indian Health Project. Casao also collaborated with Fresno State’s California Indian Conference, a digital exhibit that celebrates the perseverance and vibrancy of California American Indian cultures.

“Students should be aware of their local history,” Casao said. “This exhibit offers a way for teachers to explore with their students and acknowledge the land they live on.”

According to the National Congress of American Indians, 87% of state history standards do not mention Native American history after 1900. Thus, creating an inaccurate representation of the many tribes, communities, and individuals that are current and active across the nation.

“In the first grade, I remember dressing up as an ‘Indian’ with my little construction paper headdress and all the kids sat down at a long table in the classroom and celebrated what the teacher said was the first Thanksgiving,” said Dr. Wild Garnett (Lemhi Shoshone), assistant professor of special education at Fresno State.

“Most of what was taught about American Indians in school is purely from a European perspective. It is a perspective that ignores our spiritual existence and connection to all things. It ignores our stories, our practices, our connection to the earth, and all the living beings upon it, and ignores how we create and share knowledge.”

As of 2018, only 0.41% of professors in higher education are of American Indian or Alaska Native descent — one of the most underrepresented groups in higher education. Fresno State is home to nine American Indian faculty members, making up 0.60% of the faculty at the University.

As Casao reflects on her time at Fresno State, her heart warms as she remembers the ample support of her faculty. Before enrolling in her master’s program, she met with Dr. Carol Fry Bohlin, Curriculum and Instruction Department chair, and was supported in her desire to infuse Native American Studies into her education.

She also took classes with Dr. Roy Bohlin, professor emeritus, and appreciated his accommodations to customize final projects on her interests in topics such as Native youth and science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) education.

“Because of all of the support from my professors, I have been able to learn how to become a better researcher, improve my writing skills, learn new teaching strategies, learn new methodologies, technology resources and much more,” Casao said.

After graduating in spring 2021, Casao began working as a program officer for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. She works with pre-college programs and builds curricula to provide schools and teachers across the nation with STEAM resources. “Connecting with people who have very similar missions as me and interacting with Indigenous students is a highlight of this work,” Casao said.

Because of efforts such as Casao’s, teachers across the country are steadily gaining access to more resources on Indigenous education. In 2018, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian launched Native Knowledge 360o, an initiative aiming to improve how Native American history and culture are taught in schools.

Initiatives such as these, in addition to local efforts, are helping teachers incorporate current Native histories into the classroom – working to increase the inclusivity of Indigenous cultures in education.

Meet Sanger Unified’s deputy principal – Samuel Polanco

Fresno State prepares 60% of school administrators across the region.

The Kremen School of Education and Human Development places considerable emphasis on an educator who can function effectively as a leader in a culturally and linguistically diverse society and make a positive difference in the Central Valley.

Our commitment to preparing educational leaders has lead to Fresno State contributing sixty percent of school administrators across the region. Our alumni are leading the valley’s schools as superintendents and principals working to shape the future of our youth.

Samuel Polanco is a an exceptional example of an alumnus dedicated to making a difference.

How are you connected to Central Valley?

I was born at the old Sanger Hospital. Bring raised in Raisin City, California, I attended and graduated from Caruthers High School. I have always been ingrained in rural areas of the Central Valley.

How did your career path lead you to become a deputy principal?

I started by pursuing higher education at Fresno State. I earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a teaching credential. I then worked as a third- and fourth-grade teacher.

I decided to go back to Fresno State and earn a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration with a preliminary administrative services credential.

After that, I took on new roles. I worked as a curriculum coach, assistant principal, elementary principal and now I am the deputy principal at the Sanger High School West Campus.

Why did Sanger open a new high school?

Sanger Unified’s boundaries encompass about 180 square miles. This not only includes the city of Sanger, but the communities of Centerville, Del Rey, Fairmont, Lone Star, Tivy Valley and portions of the Sunnyside area of metropolitan Fresno. Attendance in the district has continued to grow every year and the district serves about 12,000 students. With a current enrollment of over 3,300, additional space was needed to safely hold high school students.

How did the Preliminary Administrative Services credential and master’s degree in education prepare you for this role?

I enjoyed my time in the graduate program. The team of professors provided great insight on how to view, coach and build curriculum and instruction, culture and student behaviors. I was able to build lasting relationships with my cohort members.


If you are interested in learning more about furthering your education to become a school administrator, click here.

Lizbeth Cortez Villa named undergraduate dean’s medalist

Lizbeth Cortez Villa is a first-generation college student and immigrant who came to the United States in hopes of achieving her parents’ dream – pursuing higher education. She instilled within herself a strong drive to excel in education. Because of this, Villa was able to pursue a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies while working her way through college.

During summer and winter breaks, she would work in the fields and during the semester she found jobs that allowed her to prioritize education. Being dedicated to her education resulted in receiving multiple scholarships which helped make her educational journey possible.

Villa is the oldest sibling in her family. She grew up caring and helping those around her, not only in the home but also in the classroom. “As a young student, most of my teachers paired me off with students who were non-English speakers,” said Villa. “And I would be in charge of translating what we were learning.”

At first Villa enjoyed the opportunity to help her peers but she realized it was jeopardizing her own education. Now that Villa has graduated, she plans to enroll in Fresno State’s Multiple Subject Teaching Credential program to bring awareness into the classroom and better the education system when it comes to working with migrant students who face language barriers.

While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Villa became a Scholar in Service with the Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning. She completed over 640 community service hours, most of which at the Wesley United Methodist Church. At Wesley she worked on many events with the community, doing blood pressure checks, handing out food, and bridging the gap with law enforcement. Now she has been offered a job as a Sunday School teacher at Wesley.

“Her ability to adapt, leadership skills, and self-motivation, prepare her beautifully,” said Mayra Cubos, Wesley Non-Profit Administrator. “I know she will excel in her field and go on to change many lives for the better.”

In addition to being a Scholar in Service, Villa also received the Undergraduate Dean’s Medalist award from the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. She is a distinguished graduate who strives far.

After teaching in the Central Valley, Villa plans to continue her education and earn a master of science degree in counseling and then go on to earn a doctorate in educational leadership.

“My goal is to open a nonprofit organization that will provide support for families and students in the Valley,” said Villa. “I hope to inspire the young minds of our generations and prove to them that we are capable of so much in this world.”