TUSD is on the cusp of hiring a new superintendent. Yes, again. It will be the eighth time the Governing Board will hire a permanent or interim top leader within the past 10 years.
The four finalists for the job of Tucson Unified School District superintendent will answer variations of “how will you make TUSD a success?” when they face questions in interviews and public forums next week.
Their answers won’t be nearly as important as questions each should put to TUSD Governing Board members:
“Will you let me do my job?”
“What will you do — and what will you stop doing — so I can do the job you are hiring me to do?”
“Do you promise not to undermine my decisions, directly or indirectly?”
“Will you allow change to happen?”
“Will you accept that your actions and views are well-intentioned, but that you might be wrong?”
And, most importantly:
“Will you accept that you are part of a bigger problem, and will you — can you — change?”
Some superintendents have been more successful than others, but all have been felled primarily by the dysfunctional group of people who hired them: the TUSD Governing Board.
The cast of characters have changed over the years, from election to election, but Mark Stegeman, Adelita Grijalva and Michael Hicks have been on the board since 2011.
Stegeman and Grijalva have been together since 2009. Or, more accurately, have been at odds on major issues since 2009.
That’s a lot of time for bad blood to metastasize, and it surely has. Over the years various board members have held each other — and often the district administration — in open contempt, they’ve overstepped into what should be administrative matters, they’ve accused each other of nefarious motivations, they’ve blamed the board’s “other side” for persistent disappointing academic performance.
I think it’s gotten to the point where individual board members are doing what they think is right — but when they get in the same room, everything goes to hell. The chemistry is beyond repair.
The friction goes beyond policy or educational disagreements about how to best serve TUSD’s students, parents, community or taxpayers. It’s gut-level, and it’s clear as day. It comes through at board meetings, and when talking with board members individually.
If board members don’t trust each other little of substance can be achieved. And the TUSD students’ unofficial scores on the new AzMERIT standardized tests — and a board member’s explanations for them — underscore the failures: Fewer than 30 percent of TUSD students passed either the math or language arts portions of the test.
In sixth-grade 41 percent of Arizona students scored “proficient” on the math test, compared to only 21 percent of TUSD sixth-graders.
On the Aug. 4 Buckmaster radio show, I asked Board President Michael Hicks about this, and what the board is doing to turn it around. His response was, essentially, that a lot of kids knew the tests didn’t matter to their grades or graduation, so they blew them off – and that that happened statewide, too, not just in TUSD.
That just means TUSD students are worse (better?) at blowing off tests than their peers statewide.
Which brings me to the real real problem — which is also the good news — in TUSD: voters.
There are more than 246,000 registered voters within TUSD boundaries. Each one of those people is affected by TUSD, whether they own property or have a child in schools.
Yet in the most recent election, when seven people ran for three seats, the most votes any single candidate received was Mark Stegeman, with 57,466 votes. Incumbent Kristel Foster followed with 54,352 and newcomer Rachael Sedgwick had 50,205.
The level of turnout is pitiful.
So here’s the question superintendent candidates should ask TUSD voters:
What will you do to fix the problem?
Sarah Garrecht Gassen is the Editorial Page Editor. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Facebook.