With only seven months under his belt, TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez is declaring Tucson’s largest school district is on an upward swing.

Having seen academic gains across a number of Tucson Unified School District campuses, and only being points away from earning a grade of B from the Arizona Department of Education, Sanchez said in his first State of the District speech Monday that TUSD is heading down a good path.

“This is Tucson’s unified school district; this is the community’s school district; this is the engine to economic development in this community,” Sanchez told dozens in attendance at a School Community Partnership Council meeting.

Having spent much of his time meeting with and listening to community members, teachers, administration and parents, Sanchez said he has made it a point to learn about what the priorities are for each of those groups and the direction they hope to see the district go in.

He said he has worked to be responsive to those concerns and has enlisted external firms to give an impartial perspective on the current reality of the district — what is being done well, what can be done better and what the district needs to move away from to move forward.

While the results of the external audits are still being compiled, Sanchez has moved forward on several of his own initiatives brought to his attention through dialogue with the TUSD community. From increasing pay for longtime teachers, to trying to decrease class sizes for the coming year, to devising a plan to offer low-cost day care for employees’ children, Sanchez has moved quickly.

While he joked that he is nearly halfway through what has become the standard tenure of a superintendent in TUSD, he reaffirmed the commitment he made when he was first hired — to remain for five years, as evidenced by his push to begin creation of a five-year strategic master plan focusing on the areas of finance, facilities, curriculum and instruction, diversity and communication.

All of these efforts are being undertaken with input from interested parties, Sanchez noted.

“This is TUSD,” Sanchez said, emphasizing the “US.” “This is not H.T.’s TUSD … We’re doing things with people rather than doing things to people or imposing things on them.”

For Richard Johnson, a longtime TUSD parent and a playground monitor, the change is evident.

“I see how things have changed,” said Johnson, who has put two children through TUSD and has a fifth-grader in the district now. “Money is tighter, but it’s being used more wisely. I think we’re doing good; we’re going in the right direction.”

While there are many positives, TUSD continues to have many hurdles to overcome, including technology woes, continued falling enrollment, declines in state funding, and a decades-long battle to bring racial balance to its schools.

Sanchez said facing those longtime challenges boils down to one goal: giving all children a quality education no matter who they are or where they live.

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

Education writer for #ThisIsTucson. Mom of one.