Vowing to support effective magnet schools and give struggling programs a shot at improvement, the TUSD Governing Board unanimously approved the final version of its comprehensive magnet plan Tuesday.

Despite repeated calls to eliminate ineffective programs promptly, the 54-page plan does not include the elimination of any magnets for the upcoming school year.

The Tucson Unified School District’s resistance to eliminating magnet programs right away stems from a desire to give each campus a fair shot.

“Overall, with a clearly laid out rubric to evaluate magnet program success, we will abide by the rating systems and appropriately recommend magnet continuance or discontinuance based on clear criteria that were communicated in advance and developed through a collaborative effort,” said TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez.

The district’s desegregation order requires the development of a magnet plan to address the creation of new magnets and the revision, improvement and elimination of others.

African-American and Hispanic plaintiffs in the 40-year-old desegregation case, as well as a desegregation expert who oversees TUSD’s efforts, were invited to take part in Tuesday’s meeting. But the plaintiffs declined, saying a public meeting was not the appropriate forum to resolve their objections to the plan.

The desegregation expert — Special Master Willis Hawley — did, however, participate, once again repeating his concern the district’s efforts likely will not make significant progress and could hinder its ability to get out from under the desegregation order by the deadline: the end of the 2016-2017 school year.

“The process for removing magnet status will delay decisions on removal of status for an unacceptably long period of time,” Hawley wrote in a July 13 memo to the Governing Board — comments he echoed in the public meeting. “No current program ... can be terminated for at least two years, even those that are seen as the most likely to lose magnet status.”

He added that a mechanism created by TUSD to evaluate programs may not be effective because in some cases it measures processes rather than outcomes, which could allow a school to “score well without doing a good job with respect to achievement or outcome for kids or integration.”

The draw of magnets

Magnet schools offer specialized themes to attract and encourage students of diverse backgrounds to choose a school outside their neighborhoods. Many of TUSD’s magnet programs, however, have been found to have failed to promote racial integration, which has been set as having less than 70 percent of any one ethnic group enrolled.

The lack of success has been attributed to inadequate implementation of programs, insufficient central and site coordination and support, deficient monitoring and reporting, and inadequate community and parent outreach, marketing and recruitment.

The magnet plan seeks to address those shortfalls and ensure that all magnet schools are making progress toward integration and enhanced educational quality.

The district evaluation process will include using data to analyze trends across the district every three years, and annual evaluations to label programs to reflect which are excelling, meeting goals or falling far below the standard.

The labels are assigned based on a formula that evaluates diversity — the highest weighted category worth 35 points, followed by academic excellence at 30 points, with up to 15 points for high quality instructional systems, and 10 points each for innovative curriculum and family and community partnerships.

A preliminary evaluation to pilot the evaluation formula resulted in schools scoring significantly lower than expected. However, TUSD argued the standards are new to schools and they have not had an opportunity to focus on improvement efforts.

Dodge was the only magnet rated as excelling. Cragin, Drachman, Tucson High’s science program, Borton, Booth-Fickett and Palo Verde were labeled as meeting the standard. Falling into the improvement-needed category were Tucson High’s fine-arts program, Tully, Holladay, Safford, Bonillas, Roskruge, Davis, Cholla, Carrillo and Mansfeld. Schools that will be issued an elimination warning are Pueblo, Ochoa, Robison and Utterback.

Contact Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@tucson.com or 573-4175.

Education writer for #ThisIsTucson. Mom of one.