After closing its doors more than a year ago, Menlo Park Elementary School may reopen, offering TUSD students an opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school.
The Tucson Unified School District is considering whether to lease a portion of Menlo Park Elementary School, 1100 W. Fresno St., to the private, nonprofit Prescott College at a rate of $35,000 per year plus the cost of utilities.
A deal that has been in the works for months would include the lease and a partnership in which Prescott College would offer a dual-credit program to TUSD students as well as professional development for teachers.
As part of the lease, some of those services — $31,000 worth — would be provided in-kind by the college for a total of $66,000 per year for at least the first two years.
The proposal was scheduled to go before the Governing Board today, but the item was withdrawn to give the district more time to consider community feedback.
Preliminary feedback has been mostly positive, Prescott College has said, although some have voiced a desire to see a cultural center housed there — an idea the college is open to.
At least one Governing Board member is opposed to the proposal, calling it an effort to reintroduce the now-defunct Mexican American Studies program, which was found to be in violation of state law, into TUSD.
Mark Stegeman’s concern stems from the fact that the Prescott College Tucson director, Anita Fernandez, is supportive of the controversial courses and has teamed up with former MAS educators to ensure that Tucson-area teens continue to have access to that type of instruction, even offering college credit to those taking them.
Fernandez is also the co-founder and director of the Xican@ Institute for Teaching & Organizing.
“Prescott College’s institutional tagline is ‘For the Liberal Arts, the Environment & Social Justice,’ and it already offers — elsewhere in Tucson — a Chicano literature course that it describes as ‘a replication of the former MAS course taught at Tucson Unified School District,” Stegeman wrote in a constituent letter Monday. “I am not sure whether simply transferring the teaching of the courses to a teacher employed by a private college allows TUSD to circumvent that law.”
TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez, however, said that is not the intention, especially since the district has culturally responsive courses of its own.
“We will not duplicate what is already in place,” Sanchez said. “And we won’t offer a class that the state says we can’t and put the district in any kind of peril.”
Fernandez has also confirmed that the MAS course would not be part of the new dual enrollment program.
In addition to serving TUSD students, Prescott College will offer training to TUSD teachers and extend reduced rates to educators looking to earn master’s and doctorate degrees.
Menlo Park, on Tucson’s west side, would be ideal in terms of being able to reach the Hispanic community and to honor the college’s commitment to social justice, Fernandez said.
“We’re looking to build a dual enrollment program, especially in the Latino community, so we can stick to our social justice mission and the work we do to really help teachers learn how to teach Latino youth in a way that we know quantitatively has been researched and works,” Fernandez said.
TUSD Governing Board member Cam Juarez said on Monday that he was not prepared to support Prescott College’s proposal, not because he does not support the idea, but out of concern that the community’s vision for the school is not being considered.
The Menlo Park Neighborhood Association met Monday evening and agreed to send a letter of support to TUSD for the campus to be utilized by both Prescott College and as a cultural center. The cultural center, which is supported by Prescott College, would serve as a hub for Latino youth and elders for educational uses, meetings, networking, socializing and to memorialize the neighborhood, said supporter Betty Villegas.
Other residents, including former TUSD Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer and resident Diana Hadley, appreciate the diversity and cultural presence that Prescott College would bring.
Prescott College’s Tucson center, 2233 E. Speedway, currently serves as a satellite office, providing administrative and academic support and access to limited residency bachelor of arts program faculty and admissions counselors.
But the college’s lease is up in two weeks, and it does have other locations it could consider, Fernandez said.
“This puts us in a precarious position,” she said. “We have options to go other places, but we want to provide these resources to this neighborhood.”