The Gaston Family Legacy Through Scholarships

Each year, the Kremen School hosts a reception for students who have earned the Rutherford B. Gaston, Sr. Scholarship. For this award, a student must be accepted in either Kremen’s Teacher Credentialing Program or Master’s in Education Program with an overall GPA of 3.5 or above. The scholarship was founded in honor of Rutherford B. Gaston, a man with a legacy of devotion to the field of education. 

Rutherford was born in Griffin, Georgia, the 13th of 15 children. His family moved north to Brackenridge, Pennsylvania when he was only two years old. After serving in the US Army during WWII, Rutherford moved back home and married his sweetheart, Willodyne, on October 13th, 1944. After working briefly at a steel mill alongside his brothers, Rutherford decided he was meant for something greater. That is when he packed up his family, which had grown to include his son Rutherford Jr. who was only three months old at the time, and moved out west, settling in Fresno. 

(Willodyne, right, a member of the Iota Phi Lambda Sorority and a Charter member of the San Joaquin Valley Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc)

Rutherford initially enrolled at Fresno State with the goal of earning a Bachelor’ Degree in Business. However, due to the racist nature of the time, he was told “a Negro would have a difficult time obtaining a job in business”. As a result, he changed his major to education, a decision which he claims was the best he ever made. After obtaining his credentials, Rutherford began teaching fifth grade at Columbia Elementary School within Fresno Unified School District

Prior to becoming the first African American principal in Fresno Unified School District, Rutherford served as lead teacher at Columbia Elementary School.  

“One of my fondest memories was as a very young girl in the early 60’s going to my father’s classroom and sitting at a desk with the “big kids”, my feet not yet touching the ground, listening to my father teach,”

– explains Eugenia Gaston Reeves, Rutherford’s daughter. 

In 1963, Rutherford became the first African American principal in Fresno Unified, simultaneously taking charge of two elementary schools, Teilman and Emerson. These schools were located across town from one another, making dual-leadership a daunting task indeed. Many feared that Rutherford would fail due to the overwhelming nature of the position. Instead, he excelled. 

After serving as principal of Teilman and Emerson, Rutherford became the principal of Jefferson Elementary School.  Rutherford last location where he served as principal at Bethune Elementary School, a place where the student population was primarily African American. The students under his leadership scored significantly higher on standardized tests than other schools in the districts. Suspicious of their scores, the state of California requested that they be retested, only for Rutherford’s students to score even higher than the first time. Rutherford continued overseeing Bethune’s success for another fourteen years before retiring. 

Rutherford  believed in ‘each one reach one’ and applied this as he mentored many African American teachers who also became school administrators.  

Rutherford’s two greatest joys in life were his family and the sharing of knowledge, causing him to combine the two. To show that love, he established scholarships at Fresno State in both his wife’s name, Willodyne, and his deceased son’s name, Craig. 

Upon his death, Rutherford’s remaining four children were initially at a loss as to how they could commemorate their father’s legacy. However, they understood the significance education had on their father’s life. He had earned his Bachelor’s Degree, Teaching Credential, and Master’s Degree through Fresno State, making the Kremen School a natural choice to establish a scholarship in his name. 

The Gaston family considers it an honor and privilege to attend the scholarship reception each spring and to commemorate Rutherford’s memory in such a meaningful way. For the past several years, due to the pandemic, the award ceremony has been hosted virtually, enabling a greater number of Gaston family members to attend. They enjoy hearing about these students’ diverse backgrounds and journeys as they receive their scholarships, knowing that they are making a positive impact, not only on the local community, but on the future of education in the Central Valley. 

On April 24, 2012, the Fresno Unified School District board voted to name a new southwest middle school after Mr. Gaston. The school opened on August 18, 2014 and was dedicated on September 19, 2014. Gaston Middle School serves students in grades 7-8, and is the first

Fresno Unified School to operate a Health and Wellness Center for the neighborhood community. 

The Gaston family legacy also continues on through Rutherford’s brother Everett, his wife Gail and their daughter Summer. Everett is a retired educator who taught at Bullard High School for nearly a decade. Gail is one of the visionary leaders who helped establish the Peace Garden at Fresno State, a space that pays tribute to the many individuals whose lives were devoted to peace and activism. Their daughter Summer is currently an administrator in the Fresno Unified School District. As a result, there has been a Gaston employed in FUSD continuously since 1953, creating a legacy across three generations.

If you are a student currently enrolled in the Teacher Credentialing Program or Master’s in Education Program and would like to apply for the scholarship, visit this link. If you would like to make a donation to the scholarship fund, please visit this website

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

Kremen’s HEAL Program is Recognized for Outstanding Student Leadership

Sade Johnson, a student in Kremen’s Higher Education Administration and Leadership (HEAL) program, was recently recognized as an “Outstanding Graduate Student” by the California College Personnel Association (CCPA) as well as earning the “Graduate Student Honoree” award for recognition at the Division of Research and Graduate Studies (DRGS). Sade is expected to receive her M.A. in Spring 2023 with a 4.0 GPA.

During the course of the 30-semester unit program, HEAL students delve into curricula that examines policies, practices, theories, and current issues related to the postsecondary education pipeline. HEAL prepares emerging leaders for professional roles in academic affairs, making Sade a perfect representation of the program’s mission. Sade is a first-generation, system-impacted, low-income student-parent, who is also a wife and mother to two young children. She previously earned her B.A. in African American Studies with an emphasis on African American/Black Culture, Histories, and Society with a Minor in Mathematics from the University of California, Davis

Sade’s passion for higher education stemmed from her transition to parenthood while still being enrolled in college. She experienced many of the injustices the system perpetuates toward parenting students, an experience which caused her to courageously advocate for policies and practices rooted in justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, leading to her current work as a graduate assistant for Project HOPE, a case management service that addresses the basic needs of Fresno State’s student population. Sade has also collaborated with the Michelson 20MM Foundation, serving on their Spark Basic Needs Grant Committee. The foundation is dedicated to supporting and investing in higher learning initiatives that seek to transform the lives of underrepresented students.

Sade is also a Graduate Equity Fellow, her fellowship experience includes serving on the planning committee for the inaugural Higher Education Student Affairs in the Central Valley (HESA-CV) Conference, an annual meeting that aims to establish local networking opportunities for graduate students. She also serves as Vice-chair for the Student Advisory Council (SAC) at a dual-immersion charter school.

Sade aspires to continue working in higher education, advocating for students who are underrepresented or who have been impacted by the system. She is especially passionate about helping student-parents, students of color, first-generation students, and those classified as low-income. Sade has a strong belief that everyone is entitled to an education, no matter what their circumstances. 

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

The SECREd Garden: A Haven for the Community 

Community Garden projects are gaining momentum across the country as they serve as places to beautify and unite neighborhood communities as well as to grow crops in neighborhoods where there are issues of food insecurity. Community gardens have been shown to have many strong and positive impacts wherever they are established. They serve as spaces to educate children about beauty and conservation, allowing citizens to explore their cultural heritage through community practices associated with food production, agricultural traditions and storytelling, and serve as natural gathering places which unite the community. Existing gardens on Fresno State’s campus include the Peace Garden, Maple Mall Arboretum, Allergy-Free Demonstration Garden, and the Memorial Plaza Garden

The Kremen School of Education and Human Development is currently embarking on their own project to connect outdoor education efforts on Fresno State’s campus to community members and local agencies. Kremen employs innovative models of teaching that emphasize the importance of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) in Transitional Kindergarten (TK-12) education. Studies show that outdoor learning experiences positively impact science, literacy and math standards as well as the environmental, nutritional, social-emotional aspects of learning and development. Opportunities to explore outdoor classrooms and gardens have proven to transform the academic experience, contributing to increased teacher commitment in the sciences as well as improving student interest and curiosity in the natural world. To meet the growing need for outdoor learning spaces that support wellness, research and STEAM education across a range of ages and disciplines, the Kremen School is establishing a SECREd Garden Demonstration Program. The name SECREd Garden stands for STEAM Experiences through Community, Research, Education and Demonstration.

The SECREd Garden program was founded by Christina Macias and was inspired by her Master’s work in Early Childhood Education at the Kremen School. The primary scope of her research was centered around the barriers and affordances of early science education. She became interested in providing developmentally appropriate spaces that would engage young learners in the field of science exploration. This interest spurred her on a year-long journey of visiting school gardens, farms, and outdoor learning spaces across the state to gather a better understanding of how to establish her vision. 

“The SECREd Garden will provide for equitable and accessible science experiences for young children while supporting pre-service teacher training, research, the community, the Fresno State campus, and most importantly: food security and wellness opportunities.”

– Christina

While Christina was the initial creator of the project, it quickly transformed into an expansive group effort, requiring the involvement of professionals, students, and volunteers spanning across multiple disciplines. 

I continue to be inspired by the range of interest and participation in the project from students, Fresno State faculty and the surrounding community.  The range of expertise and commitment to this work has been more than I could have imagined.”

– Christina.

The original concept for the SECREd Garden was developed in partnership with Dr. Cathy Yun, a Senior Researcher at the Learning Policy Institute, and was presented to the University in 2016. Time was spent over the next year introducing and refining the project details in collaboration with the Campus Planning Committee, VP for Administration Deborah Adishian-Astone, and Associate VP for Facilities Management Tinnah Medina. 

Calliope Correia, an Instructional Support Technician III with the Jordan College of Agriculture Science and Technology, was introduced to the project early on as she was recognized as the campus expert on effective horticulture practices. Her work is deeply rooted in wellness and therapeutic methods which aligns with the program’s central mission to connect the community with natural spaces.

“Access to natural spaces, whether wild or intentionally designed, is critical to our well-being. The SECREd garden is a wonderful culmination of ideas and experiences that will benefit the University and the community not only with harvests and access to fresh vegetables but for the opportunity to play in the soil and get dirty!”

 – Calliope.

Calliope has remained a constant supporter, consultant, and visionary since the project’s inception. Through both her and Christina’s tireless efforts, the project was granted permission to explore Phase 1 in the Spring of 2018. It was determined that the SECREd Garden was to be located on the west side of the Kremen School. 

Since then, an ongoing fundraising campaign has taken place to establish the necessary funding for placing the project out to bid. This campaign has been supported by ASI, community donors, and through DOG Days, along with other Fresno State Crowdfunding opportunities. While many project-related activities were put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts were made to continue the development of the SECREd Garden. Outreach with numerous project partners allowed the program to grow despite its need for a physical location.  

The proposed project includes the development and maintenance of a demonstration garden and an outdoor classroom space. The goal is to allow students and educators to address interdisciplinary research, partake in play-based learning, explore early science experiences, learn healthy eating habits, and study community food scarcity issues. 

Jacob Hurst, a lecturer in the Fresno State Plant Science department, has created a detailed revegetation plan for the turtle pond located near the proposed site of the SECREd Garden. After acquiring measurements of the proposed space and taking aerial satellite shots, Jacob realized that there was a lot of work to be done. He intends to design a managed ecosystem for the children of the Huggins Center while also reducing the amount of maintenance required on the garden.

Jacob aims to alter the ecology of the landscape by introducing plants native to the area, allowing them to function as natural mulch to cover the bare patches of soil. Currently situated in the Huggins Center play yard, the Turtle Pond is a feature which Jacob plans to revitalize by creating shade using plants that produce thick leaves and foliage. 

“There is some concern, especially during the summer, about having coverage for the turtles. Introducing water lilies, for example, or even simply denser vegetation around the edges, will provide countless benefits for them.”

– Jacob. 

His revegetation outline also includes the introduction of more flowering vines to increase cross-pollination. To accomplish this, he intends to place Passion flowers along the back fence which will attract a variety of insects. 

Another individual who has played a crucial role in the SECREd Garden project is Arashnoor (Arsh) Gill, a student in the Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling Master’s program in the Kremen School. Arsh was first introduced to the SECREd Garden and quickly appointed to the position of student leader through engaging with Christina Macias in an adolescent development course in the Child and Family Science department. 

A primary goal for both Arsh and Christina has been to maintain a strong student presence within the project. By holding tabling and gardening events on campus, the two have been able to draw many students into the SECREd Garden student leadership committee, a group that meets on a regular basis. 

Arsh has also helped develop a gardening curriculum for the CalFresh Healthy Living series by partnering with the Student Cupboard, currently assisted by Michael Ballin. He has helped reconceptualize the SECREd Garden as a non-physical entity and has worked with several other organizations to explore gardening and early education opportunities. Most recently, he has helped to develop a social media page for the project while also offering a pivotal presence during fundraising events.

Arsh’s area of research is centered around multiculturalism, mental health, and how gardening is heavily influenced by cultural practices. Working on the SECREd Garden project has been an extremely fulfilling experience for Arsh and has allowed him to conceptualize how such a space can positively impact an individual’s outlook. 

“Dean Yerrick and I would meet up at the turtle pond to remove the remaining banana trees. It was a fun experience for everyone involved because we would share stories, talk about our backgrounds, and discuss how much gardening meant to us.”

– Arsh.

The SECREd Garden has truly been a collaborative community effort. It would not have come this far in development without the countless volunteers who have participated in the program’s numerous projects over the years.

“We intend to leverage this garden to emphasize the education of children in the heritage of agriculture, sustainability, and the stewardship of resources that was practiced here in this area long before Fresno State was built.  Indigenous people’s had important ways of managing resources and caring for the environment that need to be remembered and that we continue to learn from. Early childhood education at the Huggins Center is an important time and place to begin to emphasize STEAM education from a culturally sustaining perspective.”

– Dr. Randy Yerrick, Dean of the Kremen School.

Many contributions are from Fresno State faculty and staff who have devoted their time as consultants and provided expertise in building an inclusive framework for the project. There have been countless volunteers for site specific projects with unique connections to gardening practices, many of which have been University High School students. The SECREd Garden team is also incredibly grateful for the countless supporters who have provided substantial financial support over the course of the project. 

“Fresno State has the unique opportunity to serve as a demonstration model for outdoor learning, interdisciplinary partnerships, and the diverse cultural practices associated with land use and sustainable food practices. Our mission is to provide a space where all members of local communities can engage in work that supports their individual and community interests.”

 – Christina.

Due to generous contributions from donors, we will now be able to break ground of the SECREd Garden in the Spring of 2023, however, more donations will be needed to fund future stages of the project.

If you want to make a donation to the SECREd Garden project, please visit this site.

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

Fresno Rural Teacher Residency Program Receive Statewide Honors for Excellence 

The Fresno Rural Teacher Residency Program (Rural-TRP), an educator preparation partnership between Fresno State’s Kremen School of Education and Human Development and Fresno County Superintendent of Schools (FCSS), is front and center for excellence in local teacher residency partnerships. Recently, their efforts have been recognized as the best in the Central Valley, and by extension, the State of California. 

This project would not have gained such high honors if it hadn’t been for strong district partnerships and a supportive alliance of dedicated educators. The collaborative leadership of Dr. Heather Horsley, Director of Teacher Residency Programs in Kremen, along with Christina Macias, Rural-TRP Professor-in-Residence and Dr. Hank Gutierrez, FCSS Deputy Superintendent of Educational Services, with Brooke Berrios, FCSS Program Coordinator of Residency Programs, positions the Rural Teacher Residency Program as a successful model for partnering with multiple rural districts focused on growing its own teachers. 

Kremen has a decade of experience developing, improving, and sustaining teacher residency programs and is seen as a leader of this rigorous pathway, teaching both locally and nationally.  Kremen residency leadership and faculty are responsive to the needs of their local district partners. They design coursework and clinical experiences that ensure that the teacher residents are day-one ready to meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students in the Central Valley.

Historically, Kremen’s teacher residency partnerships have focused on the needs of the larger local districts, in part because they can more successfully hire the resident graduates into their districts. This created unequal access to highly prepared teachers for smaller districts. Fresno County and Kremen leadership worked to address the issue, which led to the launch of the Rural-TRP in August 2021.

“When superintendents of local, rural districts opened up conversations about their unique needs, we felt a collective responsibility to take intentional action. We were driven by a common goal of developing a rural teacher pipeline that creates the conditions where K-12 students, rural  residents, teachers, and communities can thrive. It amazes me how much we have accomplished in a short period of time, something that would not be possible without a strong local partnership consisting of several interest holders.”

– Dr. Horsley.     

The success of the County-University partnership has been recognized with two prestigious state awards for excellence in education.    

The California School Boards Association recently bestowed upon FCSS, in recognition of the Fresno-TRP, the 2022 Golden Bell Award in the Professional Development and Teacher Recruitment/Retention Category. The CSBA Golden Bell Awards promote excellence in education by recognizing outstanding programs and practices of school boards in school districts and county offices of education throughout California.

The Fresno-TRP is geared towards recruiting, retaining, and supporting a teacher workforce that accurately reflects community demographics. It positions teachers to thrive by providing equity-driven professional development and intentional partnerships with mentor teachers. The Rural-TRP also partners with the California Teaching Fellows Foundation, a local expanded learning program, to deepen the rural teacher pipeline.

“What stands out most to me is how the Rural Teacher Residency Programs recognizes the various community assets that exist, and the ways in which there is a desire to bring those community assets together to help accomplish the goals of the rural residency. As a community based organization, I appreciate the recognition and inclusion strategies that helped uplift our agency in the process and created the circumstances that allowed those students to make the transition from Expanded Learning youth worker into the residency program.”

– Mike Snell, CEO California Teaching Fellows Foundation.

The success of the Rural Residency goes beyond instruction in the classroom. The local, rural districts have the opportunity to hire resident graduates, the majority of whom are residents of the rural communities in which they serve. To have teachers who reflect the backgrounds of the K-12 students and who are deeply rooted in their communities is greatly beneficial to the students’ academic and social development. 

“This [program] is extremely important. We want to see our hometowns grow and progress. I plan to stay here and serve the Spanish-speaking community. Teachers that understand and can connect with parents will change the lives of rural students.”

– a member of the Rural Resident Cohort 1. 

At present, the Rural Residency partners with districts have hosted two distinct cohorts. The first cohort of 19 residents graduated in May 2022, while the second cohort of 18 residents is currently enrolled. Together, 35 rural residents have been placed in 10 different elementary schools in the Kerman, Firebaugh, Mendota, and Golden Plains school districts.

According to information provided by Berrios, of the 19 rural residents in cohort one, 74% have received contract offers. Nearly 63% were hired back into a rural district and 27% were hired on Dual Immersion contracts.

“The Rural Teacher Residency supports the Teacher Development, Economic Development, and Human Capital for the communities of Firebaugh – Las Deltas, Kerman, Mendota,  Golden Plains, Laton, and Parlier Unified in an “equity in action” model, providing the essential elements for long-term sustainable educational effectiveness and generating highly qualified teachers for some of California’s most impoverished students.”

Dr. Gutierrez

An Apple for Excellence

In addition to receiving the Golden Bell Award, the Rural Teacher Residency  Partnership was also awarded the Apple for Excellence Award from the California County Boards of Education. The Apple for Excellence Award recognizes outstanding programs administered by county offices of education that reflect the depth and breadth of a county education program necessary to address students’ changing needs.

The Apple for Excellence Award also represents an appreciation to the dedicated educators in county offices across the state that strive to provide high-quality education with cutting-edge innovation.

Both awards signify a level of distinction that sets these programs apart from others in the state. These awards also validate FCSS and Kremen’s ongoing commitment to shape policy around funding, diversification, recruitment, and retention efforts for the rural teacher pipeline.

“These awards highlight outstanding programs and provide an opportunity to share information about effective educational strategies with other county offices of education throughout the state.”

–  Berrios. 

The Rural Teacher Residency Program received both awards at the Golden Bell Awards Reception and Ceremony on Thursday, December 1, 2022, at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina.

(Written by Dr. Heather L. Horsley, Assistant Professor and Residency Director at the Kremen School of Education and Human Development and co-authored by Kremen staff)

Sherri Nakashima: A Legacy of Devotion and Perseverance 

Photo Credit: Ana Espinosa

During her 27 years of hard work and dedication, Sherri Nakashima processed over 20,000 credential recommendations for teachers, counselors, administrators and school nurses since being hired in 1997 as Fresno State’s sole Credential Analyst. Without her countless hours of diligence and precise attention to detail, many educators throughout the Valley today would not have obtained the credentials required for them to enter the field of education. As part of her position, she also ensured that all credential programs offered through Fresno State maintained both national and state accreditation by submitting credential recommendations to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) for state licensing of educators.

Nakashima’s journey to this position is paved with a deep devotion for teaching. She graduated from Fresno State as a first-generation college student after being inspired by her two older brothers who both received their degrees in Agriculture. Nakashima obtained a BA in Liberal Studies and also earned a Multiple Subject credential through the Kremen School of Education and Human Development which she then used to teach 4th grade. Soon afterwards, she began to crave a career change. A friend of hers who worked on campus informed her that a position had opened up within the Kremen School. After applying in 1995, she was quickly hired for a front-desk position by Associate Dean Dr. Robert Monke.

“This return to Kremen became a pivotal moment in my life with everything coming full-circle.”

 – Nakashima 

Thea Beddingfield, the Credential Analyst at the time, became her supervisor in Education 100 (now CASS). While working the front desk, Nakashima was also being simultaneously trained by Thea on how to process credential applications. During that period, Fresno State consistently produced the highest number of credential candidates in the CSU system and because of this, Thea was able to convince administration that a second Credential Analyst was needed. After applying in 1997, Nakashima moved to a Credential Analyst I position assisting Thea with processing applications. Shortly thereafter, Thea moved to a different job on campus, leaving behind the world of accreditation. Nakashima then became the sole Credential Analyst for the campus.

The duties of a Credential Analyst are extremely demanding and sometimes even challenging in nature as they are required to remain up-to-date on all credentialing policies and procedures for the state of California. Nakashima was in charge of submitting credential recommendations for all required programs including (Multiple Subject, Single Subject, Education Specialist); Pupil Personnel Services (School Counseling, School Social Work, School Psychology); Administrative Services, Agriculture Specialist, Reading Specialist, School Nursing as well as the online CalState TEACH program.

Her responsibilities also included credential advising, the evaluation of transcripts for adding authorizations, submitting appeals for credential extensions, attending CTC meetings, working with Kremen advisors, program coordinators, and other academic advisors across campus. This frequent communication and collaboration with other colleges at Fresno State was crucial to ensuring that all students met the requirements to earn a credential. Nakashima would also serve as a liaison to local county offices of education, school district human resources personnel, other CSU system Credential Analysts and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Processing and submitting credential recommendations requires the highest level of attention to detail, something that Nakashima excelled at. Each individual credential candidate’s application entails an evaluation of credential documents to verify that the candidate has successfully met the state and university legal requirements to obtain a credential. Nakashima would double and triple check these requirements to guarantee that the students whom she advised were on the path to ultimate success.

In 2007, Nakashima received a brick on the Teachers and Friends of Education Honor Wall as a Richter Award recipient for outstanding Kremen Staff. In 2019, she accepted yet another outstanding staff award, cementing her legacy within the Kremen School even further.

After 27 years of commitment and resolve within the field of education, Nakashima has decided to file for a well-earned retirement. While she is thrilled to finally be able to turn off her 5:30 a.m. alarm and spend more time with loved ones, Nakashima has discovered that the most difficult part of retiring is the knowledge that she will no longer see her colleagues on a regular basis. However, she is grateful for the cherished memories she has made with her coworkers both in and outside of the Kremen School. She is especially appreciative of the hard work put in by staff and faculty members as well as the presence of invaluable student assistants — the great majority of which have pursued their teaching credentials and/or master’s degrees within the Kremen School.

“I don’t have children of my own, but our current and former student assistants make me feel like a proud “Mom”! It’s heartwarming to see how fellow staff support each other throughout the course of an academic year. They are generous, kind, intelligent, respectful, hard-working and dedicated. All have a wonderful sense of humor, which is needed in dealing with challenges that arise.”

– Nakashima explains.

As she reflects, Nakashima is keenly aware that it wouldn’t have been possible for her to have worked as a Credential Analyst for 27 years without their continued support. She would like to thank the Kremen School administration, staff, and faculty for their encouragement and teamwork over the years. Now begins her next chapter in life!

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

Education Leaders in the Valley Gather for Exemplary Practices in Education Leadership Conference 

Fresno State’s annual Exemplary Practices in Educational Leadership Conference returned this year with an emphasis on inspiring children’s learning in an innovative 21st century. 

Over 300 educators and leaders from across central California gathered at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District on November 1 to learn from experts, explore best practices, discuss critical issues and gather relevant ideas needed to transform organizations into collaborative cultures of learning for students and educators.

The EPC is one of the focus points of the John D. Welty Center for Educational Policy and Leadership. It’s an opportunity for the center to partner with county and local school districts to bring in respected leaders and educators to share their knowledge and for local districts to showcase their work.      

A vocal performance from operatic tenor Chris Pucci and a welcome from Fresno State President Dr. Saul Jimenez-Sandoval  set the tone for the conference. 

Developing Curious Minds for the 21st Century was the theme for this year’s conference and attendees were treated to a keynote speech from nationally-renowned educator and speaker Dr. Kenneth Wesson, who places a heavy focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) programs and how the brain affects learning.  

Dr. Wesson’s speech, Ushering in the Age of innovation-Where Anything is Possible,  focused on emotional impacts on learning and methods for creating 21st century PK-16 classrooms. It also emphasized the need for the integration of learning concepts, including math, science, writing, reading, technology – and the arts. Wesson entertained and enlightened the audience, beginning with the fundamental question, “If we are to teach our students how to think, don’t you think we should first understand how the brain works in the 21st Century?”   

According to Dr. Mabel Franks, the Director of the Welty Center, “Dr. Wesson delivered the right message, to the right audience at the right time.”

“It is imperative that we remain in touch with the needs, desires and interests of our students if we are to provide a quality, purposeful education that will prepare our youth for this brave, new, exciting, yet complex future. We also need to recognize the impact emotions have on learning and the importance of developing the whole child who is eager, willing and able to fully engage in the learning. That should be the mission of every educator.”


Following Dr. Wesson’s speech, the conference attendees then ventured out to selected breakout sessions. Many of the sessions focused on topics that included early literacy design, proactive approaches to school safety, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and other innovative teaching strategies affecting local districts and universities. There were 20 breakout sessions total, and each session was uniquely geared towards engaging and reengaging learners about the topics that are vitally important to educators and leaders in the 21st century. 

These sessions were a great opportunity for the attendees to learn from experts in their fields and share best practices for closing specific achievement gaps and improving learning outcomes for students.

The EPC is part of the Dr. Peter G. Mehas Lecture Series and is held every year. The Mehas Lecture Series honors local education icon Dr. Pete Mehas, and explores educational leadership, issues of equity and access, emerging topics in curriculum and instruction, and student success in local, regional, and global context. 

(Written by staff members at the Kremen School of Education and Human Development) 

Hiring 17 STEM Specialists Within Madera Unified Has Allowed Students to Thrive Academically

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) have been predicted as far back as President Barack Obama to be the major disciplinary game changers for equity in the future.  Still, there is much to be done in our region and throughout California to give STEM access to all students.  Under-representation for Latin-X, Black, Indigenous Native Americans, and other groups is still a major concern according to the latest reports.  

Todd Lile, Superintendent of Madera Unified School District, began to critically assess the teaching of STEM in his P-6 workforce as early as 2019.  In his pre-pandemic assessment, he observed what has been a national trend for decades.  Elementary teachers have few formal science experiences or training, despite the expressed interest to learn. He began to explore international education practices and realized the success that students of other nations were experiencing and pondered ways to engage his teachers in similar ways.   

It is predicted that the vast majority of students currently in school will retire from jobs that don’t yet exist. The Digital Age is creating new jobs requiring new skills for which traditional school models cannot prepare them.  For students to be successful in their future vocations, they must learn to be nimble, thoughtful, and adaptive to a changing world. 

Superintendent Lile focused his research on the quality of project-based learning in the area of STEM education and also on allowing teachers more blocks of time during the day to meet with their fellow colleagues in order to plan and anticipate the needs of their classrooms. 

“Traditionally, teachers have been given thirty minutes of preparation time each day, fifteen in the morning and fifteen in the afternoon, which generally consisted of packing and cleaning up the classroom,” Superintendent Lile explained. “To successfully initiate change I have determined it is necessary to give educators two hundred and fifteen minutes of professional collaboration and planning time within the contract day.” 

Superintendent Lile

In order to execute his vision, Superintendent Lile needed more experts in the field of STEM education. To accomplish this, he partnered with the Kremen School of Education and Human Development to help brainstorm a solution.  Laura Toney, the College and Career Readiness Coordinator for Madera Unified, is the lifeblood of this initiative.  A veteran of MUSD an elementary science educator for over 25 years, Laura was the perfect choice for leading such an effort.  She convenes her STEM cohort weekly for support, extends resources, teaching ideas, and significant professional development to both support teachers and bolster student engagement.  

With the support of its local community and schools, MUSD hired 17 additional STEM specialists and placed them throughout the district. Superintendent Lile also offered supplemental support through increased salaries, supplies, equipment, and training. Combined, they have made a phenomenal impact on elementary science teaching throughout the Valley.  Their goal is being met as every single child of the MUSD is experiencing STEM education at every grade level every week.  The passion and enthusiasm with which these teachers approached the initiative is commendable. 

“I am extremely impressed with the dexterity of these educators. They are teaching six different grade levels in one day and in two separate languages. I’ve never met a teacher that would even think of taking on that role, much less fulfilling it and helping one another at the same time.”

Superintendent Lile

This new educational approach has benefited students all the way from TK through sixth grade, allowing each child to enjoy a rich stem experience. Implementing science in elementary education has always been treated as an afterthought but now it is being pushed to the forefront. STEM has been proven to help children develop a mental architecture that encourages them to be strategic problem-solvers long after they graduate.  

Inspired and motivated by these efforts, Kremen is working side-by-side with these STEM teachers to support them in their learning of such notions as the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards as they redesign lessons and create a learning community to support the advancement of STEM among elementary children.  It is an unprecedented investment and daunting task for each of these teachers as they often will teach every grade level of k-6 children in a single day–often adapting culturally responsive lessons on the fly with developmental appropriateness.  In addition, this complex cycle of teaching/reflecting/adapting often happens within a bilingual dual-immersion context. Their accomplishments are so unique that these teachers are presenting with Drs. Randy Yerrick and Fred Nelson at the California Science Educators Conference October 14th in Palm Springs.  The intent is to bring awareness to the challenges of teaching today’s children rising from a global pandemic, honor the cultural and linguistic diversity of the community, and simultaneously raise the professionalism of elementary content teachers more broadly.  

Superintendent Lile wants to take this initiative to the next level by helping secure more funding for Madera Unified and elevating the profession of teaching, (particularly in the area of elementary science). Their goal is to ensure the success of our future generation and to make sure each individual reaches their full potential. 

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