David Paredes, 24, is running for the Area 5 seat on the Fresno Unified School Board. Since his campaign started in August, he’s made about a hundred phone calls a day.
“I’m also a direct product of the school system so I feel like I know what has worked and what hasn’t worked and where our priorities need to be,” Paredes said in a call to an FUSD Area 5 resident. “Like increasing access to mental health services for our youth and addressing climate change.”
The Fresno State graduate says climate change is a big priority for him. And as a community organizer for local nonprofits, he says the Fresno youth he’s met agree.
“There are a number of things they care about but environmental justice is the number one thing,” he says. “I think for the most part, without doing anything about climate change and letting our planet rot for us then really our youth don't have a future to thrive on.”
Paredes is running against incumbent Carol Mills, who has served on the board for four terms. But he says he doesn’t see himself as someone trying to disrupt the system. He’s already connected with four of the current school board members.
“I’ve become acquainted with them and it really doesn't feel like there isn't potential for a partnership, just adding a fresh new perspective,” Paredes says.
About twenty miles south of Fresno, recent UCLA graduate Jaspreet Nagra is running for the Area 2 seat on the Selma School Board. Like Paredes, this first generation Indian-American says she’s concerned about the future of young people. A program that she benefitted from in high school called Doctors Academy was recently cut by the district.
“And what it did was provide tutors; it provided internship experiences and exposure to our health care disparities in our community,” Nagra says. “But even after high school it provided outreach still so [students] weren't really dropped off when [they] left high school.”
Kids need intensive programs like these, says the 22-year-old. So when Doctors Academy was cut, Nagra decided she should run for school board.
“I spoke to a parent that said they moved their kids away to another district because they saw issues too, but I think the top concern is that parents aren't feeling listened to. I’m not a parent with kids in school but even I had to dig for some information about what was going on.”
During her time at UCLA, Nagra was director of a nonprofit that reached out to local elementary schools that were in underserved areas like Selma. And as a learning assistant at UCLA, she looked directly at how to bridge the educational achievement gap. That’s why when it comes to cutting programs like the Doctors Academy, Nagra says she would have looked at the bigger picture.
“I think a lot of the questions that were asked were just flat numbers like how many students in the program became doctors,” she says. “I think we also need to look at how many of these students got to go to college?”
If elected, Nagra says she wants to focus on creating more partnerships that will inspire students and instill a love of learning. She also wants students to have a reason to return to Selma aftercollege, like she did.
“I think schools are a place to start because once students have opportunities then they’ll also want to come back and help our town,” she says.
Like Nagra, 24-year-old Blake Zante wants to see more young people like him contribute to their communities. He’s running for the Area 2 seat on the Fresno County Board of Education.
“And so that's kind of what my campaign has been about, being a next generation voice for the folks that live here in Fresno,” Zante says.
He says COVID-19 not only negatively affects Fresno County’s public health but the local economy as well. That’s why he wants to advocate for increased vocational training and career technical education in high schools. And he wants to see more pathways to higher education for students.
“And so I kind of see an opportunity to build partnerships with our high schools, and our local colleges and universities and try to provide options for kids when they're graduating to be able to go on to a higher education,” he says.
Zante says he feels pretty confident he’ll be in a position to help create those partnerships given the support he’s received from State Senator Andreas Borgeas, Assemblymember Jim Patterson, and the mayors of Fresno and Clovis.