The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board is set to consider a proposal to combine the Catalina High School and Rincon High School student populations on the Rincon campus. Catalina would be turned over to University High School, which has long sought its own setting.
Even if UHS needs a campus of its own, closing Catalina to provide one is wrong and would serve as another example of how TUSD has neglected and underserved the Catalina community.
From 2009 to 2014, I was privileged to serve as the Catalina principal. My tenure was the second-longest for a Catalina principal since the school opened 60 years ago.
For the seniors during my first year, I was their fifth principal.
After my first year, budget cuts imposed on the school led to several counseling and teaching positions being cut. Throughout my five years of service, Catalina never received the staffing we needed to reduce class sizes where that would have helped the most.
Additional cuts caused the elimination of the popular and successful Air Force Junior ROTC classes and also lead to the termination of a well-structured, teacher-conceived program to aide the transition of freshmen into high school.
Other examples of the lack of needed assistance and support abound.
TUSD would not provide the salaries needed to compete for qualified nurse educators, so the health-care magnet died. Even though close to 40 languages and dialects were represented amongst our students, our English Language Development classes were always too large. English and math classes were never staffed at suitable levels, even though we were expected to raise standardized test scores in math and reading.
In 2014, his first year as superintendent, H.T. Sanchez got the board to approve my removal as the principal. He made this recommendation even though he never discussed our improvement plans with me, or other school leaders. Sanchez predicted that we would not make progress in that spring’s state testing, but he sought to remove me before test results were known. After the results were made public, Catalina had advanced a letter grade and the performance of the students led directly to our success.
The next school year, Catalina, along with several other TUSD schools, was put into a “turnaround” program touted by Sanchez and sponsored by an out-of-state university. This endeavor lasted two years, but not before several long-time Catalina teachers left in disgust for other TUSD schools.
My successor resigned after two years and Catalina is now under the leadership of a new principal who is charged with advancing student achievement while the community wonders if the school is to be closed.
Everything that has happened at Catalina since 2009 comes on the heels of earlier poor decisions by TUSD that impacted the school. During the 1990s, a previous board tried and failed to close the school, which affected its enrollment and reputation for years. The traditional studies partnership with Bonillas Elementary and Dodge Middle School never received adequate direction or support from TUSD leadership.
The number of principals and assistant principals who have come and gone over the years has been unacceptably high.
Catalina’s students, as well as those at Rincon, represent a high-poverty, high-need group of learners.
The disruption to their learning, not to mention the cost to taxpayers, of joining these two schools should be seriously taken into account by the board, which is charged with considering the interests of all students.
The TUSD board should reject this proposal and use this moment to determine how it can better support the Catalina community.