TUSD rejects magnet school overhaul

2013-09-25T00:00:00Z TUSD rejects magnet school overhaulBy Alexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The TUSD Governing Board elected not to adopt a magnet plan that could have eliminated popular, academically successful programs at numerous district schools on Tuesday night.

The plan, based on criteria created by a national desegregation expert, will instead come back to the Governing Board next month, once the district has had time to consult the community and come up with a plan of its own.

Because the expert set the criteria, the Tucson Unified School District’s role was primarily to confirm that the schools identified by the expert as either being successful, in need of improvement or revision, or elimination were dealt with appropriately, said TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez.

But the board declined to approve the plan after Sanchez took issue with the fact an outside entity was determining what programs are successful or ineffective without ever having visited the campuses or meeting with the community.

Community members and school educators told the board Tuesday that some of the programs targeted for elimination were quality programs, with long waiting lists to prove it, and did not deserve to be cut simply because they have been unable to integrate students.

“I’m not in agreement with what this plan dictates,” Sanchez said. “It’s not optimal.”

Sanchez added that when the desegregation order went into effect in the 1970s, the intent was to provide a quality education for all.

“At that time you got there through integration — that was the standard, the language and the intent,” Sanchez said. “Fast-forward to now, if the spirit is still quality education for all, that’s where we focus. The issue now is we are a minority majority district, and the integration definition needs to be adjusted.”

Sanchez is also concerned that TUSD has not had enough time to meet the criteria set by the outside expert, saying it’s unreasonable to expect schools to meet criteria that up until recently did not exist.

The next steps are to meet with affected communities in forums next month and devise a new magnet plan. Forms are set for Oct. 1 at Pueblo Magnet High School, 3500 S. 12th Ave., from 6 to 7 p.m.; Oct. 2 at Carrillo K-5 Magnet, 440 S. Main Ave., from 5 to 6 p.m.; and Oct. 2 at Davis Magnet, 500 W. St. Mary’s Road, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The new plan will be presented to the court, but the desegregation expert has the power to recommend that the federal judge overseeing the desegregation case overrule the will of the TUSD board.

Governing Board President Adelita Grijalva said that would be a legal battle worth fighting.

“For me, I don’t want the courts to come in and tell us what programs are successful when we know what is working in our system,” Grijalva said, adding that it’s not necessarily the magnet title that schools hold dear, rather it is the desegregation funding that sustains the programming at a time when state funding is constantly in flux.

Under the plan based on the outside expert’s criteria, five TUSD schools would have been stripped of their magnet programs after the expert found they were ineffective at integrating students or promoting educational quality.

The programs at Carrillo and Davis elementaries — A- and B-rated schools respectively — and Catalina, Pueblo and Tucson high schools would have been discontinued before the next school year begins.

Tucson High — TUSD’s largest high school — would have lost its math and technology magnet programs but retained the fine- and performing-arts focus, and revised its science magnet program to life sciences.

Carrillo’s magnet is undefined. Davis has a Spanish immersion program. Pueblo has college prep and communication arts. Catalina had health and aviation, but both themes already have been phased out.

The magnet school changes are required under the district’s decades-old desegregation order. They are part of a plan designed to help TUSD get out from under federal court supervision.

The plan also identified nine schools — Drachman, Tully, Bonillas, Ochoa, Robison, Safford, Utterback, Cholla and Tucson High — as needing to improve or revise their programs. Only five TUSD magnet schools had programs that are considered to be successful — Borton, Holladay, Booth-Fickett, Dodge and Palo Verde.

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

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