Tucson Unified School District’s top administrators could soon be working on a master’s in mowing or a Ph.D. in paintbrush manipulation in a planned Adopt-a-School program aimed at shoring up shorthanded landscaping and maintenance crews.

Best of all for cash-strapped TUSD, it’s free labor, as employees at the director level and above will be encouraged to volunteer to spend one weekend a month painting, cleaning, making repairs and doing landscaping at campuses needing maintenance and upkeep.

New district Superintendent H.T. Sanchez — a self-described handyman — has even committed to rolling up his sleeves to beautify a few of the schools he now oversees.

“It’s the kind of work that will take some time to do, but it elevates the whole appearance and feel of a school,” Sanchez said. “It’s a gesture that we’re all in this together, and it shows kids that they’re important and we want to make this building look good for them because they deserve it.”

But TUSD is hoping it won’t only be staffers getting in on the act. The district will also be soliciting community members and parents to join the effort, which will provide more resources to cash-strapped schools, but more importantly, it will “build community support,” said TUSD Deputy Superintendent of Operations Yousef Awwad.

Volunteers are not required to have any previous experience. All work will be supervised by a member of the operations team.

The idea for the program was spurred by a cleanup effort at Van Buskirk Elementary School in July when a monsoon storm tore off a portion of the roof just days before the new school year was scheduled to begin.

Awwad, who was scheduled to meet with district leaders for a business meeting, instead asked leaders to gather as many members of their staffs as possible to volunteer to help get Van Buskirk ready for students.

“Within an hour we had more than 100 people at the school,” Awwad said. “The team completed the work within two hours. It probably would have taken the school days to do it with their limited staff even if we had dispatched our operations team.”

A work schedule has yet to be finalized for the Adopt-a-School program, as TUSD is still assessing campuses to determine what sites need the most work. The program could be expanded to more than one school a month, depending on interest from volunteers and community support.

Despite having been in Tucson for only 2½ months, Sanchez is confident that the community will step forward.

“I think people realize that schools in their neighborhood are the highlight of the neighborhood, so people will come together to do what they can to enrich them,” Sanchez said.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea

Education writer for #ThisIsTucson. Mom of one.