After three years at the helm of the Chawanakee Unified School District (CUSD), Bob Nelson is leaving the position as the district’s superintendent to return to Fresno Unified School District where he had previously served for 21 years.
He leaves having guided CUSD from a “qualified” budget status to a “positive” certification.
“Over the last three-year span, we have worked hard as a team to save nearly a million dollars annually in our district’s general fund, a total representing nearly one-eighth of the entire budget,” Nelson said. “For the most part, due to our staff members’ efforts to make do with fewer resources, and our board members’ willingness to make difficult decisions, we have been able to keep these cuts away from our students directly.”
Working collectively with everyone in the district, Nelson feels that many challenges have been met head on.
In addition to budget concerns, there was also a “lot of animosity (between elementary and high school personnel and among area school districts) and I think that’s largely gone,” Nelson said.
Moving from the environment of a small, rural school back to Fresno Unified, the fourth largest school district in the state with more than 73,000 students, elicits mixed feelings for Nelson.
“First and foremost, the staff in Chawanakee Unified is terrific. For the most part, these are local community leaders who are consistently going above and beyond to provide the very best for the children of our community. It is great working alongside them, and there is a real sense that we are collectively doing work that really matters,” Nelson said. “Our board is great too. They are people who have been elected to office for all the right reasons.”
Nelson said the district trustees took a chance on him as a young, inexperienced superintendent in what has proven to be a very complex role, and for that, he is thankful.
“I’ll definitely miss being an integral part of the community,’ Nelson said. “It's pretty rare that anybody, especially kids, knows the name of the superintendent. But that is different here. I have a great deal of direct interaction with students, and supporting and teaching kids is the whole reason that I got into education in the first place. I will really miss that.”
Nelson will be serving in the role of Chief of Staff in the Fresno Unified School District to support Superintendent Michael Hanson, the Fresno Unified School Board and other leadership team members.
“I look forward in providing support and assistance (in this new position) in whatever way that I can,” Nelson said. “I’ll definitely miss serving in my home community, but after 21 years in Fresno, this new role feels like a homecoming of sorts. And I will still live here and be a parent here, so my commitment to Chawanakee and to the schools and leaders of Eastern Madera County will remain in place.”
Nelson said he and his wife’s (Tiffany) newly adopted foster daughters are not yet three years-old so it’s likely he will still be directly involved with area schools for 15 more years.
They have three older children - Josh, a Minarets High School junior, Phillip, a Yosemite High School junior, and Ben, a 2014 Minarets graduate, who is serving a church service mission in Uruguay.
Because Nelson is returning to Fresno Unified within a 39-month time frame, that district restored his 21 years of service and lifetime health benefits.
He will continue to serve the Chawanakee District until mid-August, assisting his replacement during the transition.
“Hopefully the new superintendent will consider allowing me the additional benefit of continuing to announce Minarets home sporting events,” Nelson said. “I’ll admit that I am not quite ready yet to give up being the ‘voice of the Minarets Mustangs.’”