For the last five years, Rex Scott has served as the principal of a TUSD high school that he fondly refers to as a “microcosm of the world.”
Catalina Magnet High School is home to nearly 1,000 students who speak 40 different languages, representing about 40 different nations. About 78 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch and the mobility rate — the rate at which students transfer in and out of a school — at the midtown campus, 3645 E. Pima Street, is 58.1 percent — the highest of any TUSD high school.
Add to that the fact that more than one-third of the school’s students are English-language learners, and that 12 to 15 percent of students are exceptional education, Catalina has its challenges, as evidenced by its letter grade for the last three years — D.
As a result, Scott’s job is on the chopping block. The Tucson Unified School District is recommending that Scott’s contract not be renewed — the second time that recommendation has been made in as many years.
TUSD regulations state any principal whose school is labeled by the state as lower than a “C” for two consecutive years will not be recommended for an administrative contract for the following school year unless significant improvements have been accomplished as measured by AIMS scores.
While Scott’s contract was not renewed last April, along with two other leaders of poorly performing schools, the administrators were given a second chance months later.
Scott declined to comment Monday about tonight’s impending board action, but noted that Catalina has made “significant growth” in student achievement as called for by the regulation. In 2012, Catalina was 12 points shy of earning a grade of C, compared to last year when the school missed the mark by only two points.
“We have every confidence that we will continue to show solid gains when AIMS scores are reported later this spring,” he said. “Our staff has been following a detailed, data-driven and student-centered plan for realizing these gains since school started in August.”
Kim Peterson, a Catalina parent and member of the school site council, called the effort being put forth admirable.
“From what I’ve seen, they are working to offer an exceptional education to all students whether they are non-English speakers or AP students,” Peterson said, adding that all students, regardless of ability, are tested on the same content. “You have to take the diversity and challenges into account, I don’t know how anyone could say otherwise.”
TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez, however, has said Catalina’s diversity should not be used as an excuse.
“Our job is to meet students where they are and get them to where they need to be — to a level of success,” Sanchez said at the start of the school year.
Nonetheless, supporters of Scott who came out in droves on his behalf last year, voiced disappointment in the district’s plan to replace Scott.
“It would be a travesty if the board does not retain him,” said Bruce Grossetta, a Catalina graduate and volunteer tutor. “There is no principal given this set of circumstances that could do a better job than he does.”
Added an emotional Peterson, “Mr. Scott has turned many lives around at that school. Why consider taking him out of that position and putting that school in upheaval? It would be just another huge setback for a school that has made leaps and bounds.”