Education Matters: Meet Bob Nelson, one of the top candidates to lead Fresno Unified

FRESNO, California - The first week of the school year and Bob Nelson is trying to visit as many schools in the Fresno Unified School District as he can. 

The 48 year old educator has been interim superintendent since February….he is now the top candidate to lead the 4th largest school district in the state.

"You know I fancy myself as a servant leader, I don't want to over sate that but I try to help other people right. I can't think of a better jumping off place to try to help as many people as I can you know", said Nelson. 

Nelson is not new to the district he began his career here as a 6th grade teacher at Burroughs Elementary 27 years ago.  He calls it the greatest job and believes his experience in the classroom gives him a unique perspective.

"People would have a hard time telling me I don't understand what it means to be a teacher.  I know what it means to stay at home and write lesson plans over the weekend to late nights because you can't control all the factors that lead to your student's success. I still feel those feelings but the thing about being superintendent you feel that 74-thousand times."

He is a father of 7, four of them foster children and one with a severe disability 

"Somebody ask if having 7 kids help you deal with the issues here I will say I'm a lot more comfortable with chaos than most people."

He does seem to bring a lot of carrying to his job. The day we tagged along with Nelson we noticed that he seems to know everyone, calls them by name. He says the fact that he knows so many of the staff by name may have to do with the four years he spent in human resources.

"I hired almost every non teaching faculty member across the system for that 4 year period and I was the person who did the labor negotiations as well as recruitment, retention and retainment dismissal too I did all of that which was good I learned a lot about people," said Nelson.

And people learned a lot about him. Take Yeseni Lopez, she's worked at Yosemite Middle School for 7 years but she remembers being a new employee concerned about taking a position, she was a little nervous and insecure so she called human resources.

 "A gentleman answered was very kind answered all my questions made me feel at ease calmed my nerves and i really appreciated that because it was after hours and I didn't expect anybody to pick up," said Fresno Unified employee Yeseni Lopez.

That man was Bob Nelson and his act of kindness is something Yeseni never forgot and wanted him to know that. Nelson says he wants to fight against the narrative out there that says administration doesn't listen, he wants to build a new reality.  

"Making sure that the board, superintendent, community relations are positive and keeping people in a positive head space so we can talk about the serious issues of the district in an attitude of collaboration and positive spirit," stated nelson, "the work we are doing is difficult work right only 22% of our kids are on grade level in math and 31% in language arts and that's not a statistic that you can blame on anybody it's just the reality of where we are right now and has to improve."

In a district that still has such a long way to go to reach academic excellence, a district with so many warring factions, so many needs…why would he take on that challenge.

"That's not lost on me very few people get the choice opportunity to be in space in order to make an impact of the magnitude that this job can provide. So you just take that for what it is, you just take that opportunity that you've been afforded what ever your philosophical foundation might take you, in my case I think man you're called to this work so you better step it up because the community is asking you to play a role, you have an opportunity here and don't disappoint. It will be interesting to see where it goes my intent is not to disappoint."


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