Guest Column: Helping TUSD rise above the status quo is in the community's best interest

2013-06-30T00:00:00Z Guest Column: Helping TUSD rise above the status quo is in the community's best interestJohn Pedicone Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

As I reflect upon my time as superintendent of Tucson Unified School District, I want to first express my appreciation for the opportunity to serve the Tucson community in a way that is only possible by meeting the significant challenges we faced over the past few years.

When I assumed this position, some questioned why I would consider doing this work. That question represented a general feeling by many community members that TUSD could not change. There seemed to be a lack of hope and faith in the possibilities for our district. That tragic perception was what fueled my commitment to embrace this challenge as a mission - a sort of dream with a deadline. It was never my intention to do this work for the long term. Rather, the idea of serving with a remarkable team of people to lead a district that has the potential to be the top district in this state was about making change to prepare for the next long-term leader. It has been a true honor to do so.

The truth is that in a reasonably short period of time a great deal of positive change has occurred. Despite the daunting challenges that included the Mexican American Studies controversy, the court placing the district back under a desegregation order, and overcoming a $17 million budget deficit, things have significantly improved. As they say, "the cards play themselves" when it comes to examining evidence of improvement.

Unmistakable signs of our positive trajectory include significantly improving student achievement by implementing sound instructional strategies resulting in a 40 percent reduction of our "D" schools and doubling the number of "B" schools last year with the potential for even greater gains this year; receiving more than $12 million in federal E-Rate funding for technology upgrades; eliminating 10 of 13 compliance audits, placing us under the same three annual audits required by law for all districts; and establishing accountability systems throughout district operations.

While the list of examples is extensive, the most important thing that will result in long-term, sustainable change is what resides in the hearts and minds of people inside and outside of this organization. Paramount to the long-term health of the district and this community is the belief that the district can rise above the status quo and, with hard work and a strong vision, improve results so we can prove that TUSD is a quality school district with people who perform well and care deeply about the success of children.

It's imperative that members of our community let go of old misperceptions and take a fresh look at the district and what has been accomplished in the past few years. We had to make some tough decisions that haven't always been popular, but we made them to bring about real change that will best serve our children.

We are transitioning to new leadership in the district. While it is fair to say that the new superintendent, H.T. Sanchez, will assume responsibility for an organization moving forward, there will be no lack of challenges. This is a complex environment that is in no way "easy." But leadership matters, and he comes prepared to make a difference. It is also fair to say that he needs this community to support his enthusiasm, resolve and commitment.

Anyone who serves in a leadership role in Tucson can attest to the feeling that many people tend not to embrace success but, rather, find joy in highlighting imperfections. When people come to board meetings to applaud comments that attack the district and seem to celebrate negative perceptions, it is time to confront the reality that when our district fails we all fail and when it succeeds we all succeed. It's important to acknowledge the good news that regularly comes out of our district and not falter in believing in our successes just because of the desire of some to discredit and destroy rather than build and improve.

It is in the collective interest of our community to improve the district. Our responsibility to provide the support for positive change will make the difference between success and failure. I encourage each of us to do our part to make Tucson Unified School District the institution this community deserves.

TUSD Improvement

Among numerous advances taking place in the past few years, Pedicone notes TUSD has:

• Launched full-day kindergarten at every elementary and K-8 school.

• Improved achievement at the district's two turnaround high schools (Palo Verde and Rincon), showing double-digit gains in passing grades in AIMS math tests.

• Doubled the number of "B" schools; reduced "D" schools by 40 percent.

• Adopted new rigorous mathematics and English language arts curricula.

• Improved transportation by establishing an efficiency and accountability management system.

• Implemented an E-Rate federal funding plan - received more than $12 million in funding; the first time the district has received E-Rate money in a decade.

• Fixed business practices to resolve compliance issues; eliminated 10 external audits, saving the district a potential loss of more than $45 million.

• Started implementation of a district solar energy project that could save the district more than $14 million over 20 years.

John Pedicone retired after 2 1/2 years as superintendent of TUSD, but will serve as a consultant during the new superintendent's transition .

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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