Southwest-side Cholla High Magnet School has an International Baccalaureate program.

In an effort to improve racial integration at heavily Hispanic Cholla High School, TUSD has developed a plan to draw from its highest-performing — and more diverse — middle school for next year’s class of freshman.

However, the pipeline developed to send Dodge Traditional Magnet Middle School eighth-graders to Cholla High on the southwest side was not particularly well-received by Dodge parents, many of whom plan to send their children to the award-winning University High School.

Of the 135 eighth-graders offered a seat at Cholla, only 11 accepted and all are Latino. Anglo students make up nearly a quarter of the eighth-grade Dodge population.

If Cholla doesn’t improve its diversity, it risks losing its magnet-school status, which provides funding for specialized programs.

While Cholla has improved its performance over the years, going from being a D-rated school to earning a grade of B from the Arizona Department of Education, the school’s AzMERIT scores when compared to those of University High could not be further apart.

More than 90 percent of UHS students pass math and English language arts, versus 8 percent of Cholla students passing math and 15 percent passing English language arts.

Though the reason for pairing the two schools may not be apparent to most, the transition from the centrally located Dodge to the southwest-side Cholla makes sense to Tucson Unified School District Superintendent H.T. Sanchez, who acknowledged the plan was developed after the district learned the school’s magnet status and some of the funding attached to it was at risk.

Over the last several years, Cholla’s International Baccalaureate program has grown in popularity, as has an Arabic program. The IB program is designed to develop students who have excellent breadth and depth of knowledge study at least two languages and excel in traditional academic subjects.

Students who successfully complete the International Baccalaureate curriculum — respected by top universities — and perform well on exams have the opportunity to earn college credit.

As it stands, students at TUSD’s Safford K-8 take part in an IB program for lower grades to pipeline into Cholla, but Safford is also heavily Hispanic, doing little to increase diversity.

Dodge, however, presented “a better chance of getting kids who are not Latino to look at Cholla,” Sanchez said. “It’s an opportunity,” he added. “A lot of times people don’t know the IB program is at Cholla.”

The requirement to integrate schools — meaning no single group makes up more than 70 percent of the student population at a site — is part of the district’s plan to bring racial balance to campuses.

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Part of the plan, however, requires TUSD to develop attendance boundaries and pairing and clustering of schools in consultation with desegregation plaintiffs and a desegregation expert, something that did not happen in this case.

“This is something that we worked on internally,” Sanchez said. “Our charge was to find ways to integrate the schools. ... It wasn’t part of a formal process because it’s a smaller group of kids.”

Sanchez added that students already have the option of attending any school and TUSD is simply highlighting Cholla as a choice, saying the development of the pipeline was “nothing that is disallowed today.”

Sylvia Campoy, a representative for the Latino plaintiffs in the desegregation case, said the pipeline strategy should have been included in the district’s comprehensive magnet plan, which was developed in consultation with the parties in the lawsuit.

Though she would not say whether the pipeline was a good idea, what is not good practice is developing plans “under the radar.”

“When there is specific targeting and specific recruitment efforts going on from one school to another, it should become part of the improvement plan and if not, it seems sneaky,” Campoy said. “What I know is not a good idea is to do things as if there are no other parties involved.”

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