Despite repeated recommendations to reduce the number of magnet schools in the Tucson Unified School District, a draft of TUSD’s comprehensive magnet plans shows no program eliminations for the upcoming school year.

An independent study commissioned by TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez said TUSD’s magnet schools may be hurting integration efforts, and a desegregation expert previously called for stripping several schools of their magnet status to pursue new ideas.

Still, the TUSD plan, which was presented to the Governing Board Tuesday for review, looks to give schools at least one more school year to improve before any action is taken. The final version of the plan will be brought back to the board for approval next month.

While no programs are being stripped of their magnet status immediately, the district said Tuesday that it is open to eliminating ineffective programs, said Assistant Superintendent Steve Holmes, who is in charge of curriculum and instruction.

“We have criteria to eliminate magnets, so we’re not against that,” Holmes said. “If a magnet is not attracting students, then we need to move in a different direction, but we need to have a clear process for that.”

Magnet schools are designed to promote integration by offering specialized programs that attract a diverse group of students, but only seven of the district’s 23 magnet programs are considered to be integrated. Another seven have been identified as making no progress at all toward meeting the definition of integration — a campus with less than 70 percent of any one ethnic group enrolled.

In an effort to give the campuses a chance to meet the integration criteria, which up until recently did not exist, the district has come up with a system to monitor and evaluate programs and provide support.

The system includes a comprehensive magnet review at the district level every three years that focuses on integration, curriculum, staff retention, leadership, organizational management, and marketing and recruitment. There is also an annual program assessment.

Programs will be labeled “excelling,” “meets,” “improvement” or “falls far below.” Those that earn the labels of improvement or falls far below will receive intensive recruitment and marketing resources. Improvement schools will have two enrollment cycles to move to the “meets” category. Schools that are falling far below will have one enrollment cycle to move to “improvement” or risk having their magnet status withdrawn.

A school can fall into the lowest category only once in a three-year cycle. If it does not attain the “meets” label within those three years, it will be considered for withdrawal of magnet status.

Preliminary labels have been issued:

  • Only Dodge Middle is identified as “excelling.”
  • Cragin, Drachman and Borton elementaries, Booth-Fickett K-8, Tucson High Science and Palo Verde High were labeled “meets.”
  • Davis, Bonillas, Holladay and Tully elementaries, Roskruge and Safford K-8s, Mansfeld Middle, Cholla High and Tucson High Fine Arts are in “improvement.”
  • And Ochoa and Robison elementaries, Utterback Middle and Pueblo High have received elimination warnings, giving them one enrollment cycle to meet the criteria for incoming grades.

Willis Hawley, the special master appointed by a federal judge overseeing the decades-old desegregation case against TUSD, argues that the district is maintaining the status quo by failing to eliminate magnets. The African-American plaintiffs in the desegregation case agreed with Hawley, adding that schools should be modeled after successful programs. The Latino plaintiffs would like to see the plan include academic support for students in racially concentrated schools.

The district also sought out opinions from community members, who voiced an interest in extending the improvement time from three years to five and asked that parents be included in the decision-making process.

“Difficult decisions will have to be made,” Sanchez said.

TUSD has committed to looking at strategically placing magnet schools in central locations because integration is more likely to occur when students do not have to cross perceived social or economical boundaries, and to reduce travel time.

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

Education writer for #ThisIsTucson. Mom of one.