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TUSD seeks to expand grade levels at 5 schools

  • Updated

Grade levels could be expanding at five TUSD schools under a plan approved by the Governing Board Tuesday that's intended to help the district keep and attract students.

While the plan has the support of the board and families already enrolled at the five schools, the fact that it does little to improve racial integration has led to opposition from the plaintiffs in the district’s decades-old desegregation case.

That opposition from the plaintiffs, as well as from a national desegregation expert appointed to oversee TUSD’s efforts, will be taken under consideration by U.S. District Court Judge David Bury, who will have the final say on the matter.

Grade reconfigurations approved by the Governing Board for the upcoming school year include:

• Borman Elementary will change from from a K-5 to a K-8.

• Drachman Montessori will change from from a K-6 to a K-8.

• Collier and Fruchthendler elementary schools will each add a sixth grade.

• Sabino High School will change from a 9-12 to a 7-12. Students from Collier and Fruchthendler likely will feed into Sabino.

The Fruchthendler-Sabino pipeline was previously rejected by the court in charge of the desegregation case amid concerns it would primarily cater to Anglo students.

Tucson Unified School District has retooled its proposal by providing an express bus that would pick up students from central and west side locations. Yet parent surveys indicate that most parents are uninterested in using the free transportation.

The proposals have varying levels of support from the plaintiffs and the desegregation expert — Special Master Willis Hawley — with the exception of the Sabino expansion, which was met with opposition.

The African-American plaintiffs in the case did not support the proposals, saying the resources needed to make them possible will recruit and retain Anglo students in predominantly Anglo schools.

“Under federal law, a school district operating under a federal desegregation order carries an affirmative obligation to account for the legacy of discriminatory practices when fashioning its student assignment policies and plans,” an attorney for the plaintiffs argued. “It is extremely unsettling that the district again proposes to alleviate white flight from the district by endorsing white flight within the district.”

The resistance to the Sabino plan is mostly focused on the impact such a decision would have on Magee Middle School.

Both Collier and Fruchthendler parents have been frank in explaining their decision to leave the district for the middle school years and often not returning, by saying Magee is not considered a viable option for their children.

The creation of a 7-12 school at Sabino would allow the families to bypass Magee and remain within TUSD for middle school and high school.

Though TUSD has argued the change would have little impact on Magee, Hawley feels that thinking is flawed.

“Consider the differences in the apparent quality of the choices — a middle school embedded in an ‘A’ high school compared to a ‘C’ school,” Hawley said in his memo, adding that Magee would not only serve a greater number of low income students but it also serves as a site for a district-wide in-school suspension program.

“The proposed changes in the demography at Magee will undermine the diversity and rigor of the curriculum and almost certainly cause white parents now satisfied with Magee to look elsewhere,” Hawley said. “Magee needs to be strengthened not weakened.”

Hawley also addressed the use of express buses to get students to Sabino, saying the $300,000 cost could make a difference at Magee if invested well.

Despite his opposition to the Sabino plan, Hawley said he supports adding a sixth grade to Collier and Fruchthendler, saying it may increase confidence about sending students to Magee, especially if the quality of the school is improved.

The creation of a K-8 at Borman was embraced by Hawley and the Latino plaintiffs.

The school is located on the Davis Monthan Air Force Base and the expansion would allow TUSD to compete for middle-schoolers on base, many of whom are successfully recruited by an on-base charter school.

The Drachman proposal, which would continue the Montessori program for seventh- and eighth-graders, is also supported by the Latino plaintiffs but Hawley has reservations.

Though Drachman parents have expressed support for the plan, saying they would keep their students at the campus if given the option, Hawley feels it could do more harm than good.

“Adding new grades developed with an undefined curriculum will surely take away from the expertise that could be applied to the current grade structure,” he wrote in a memo to the district.

The Governing Board unanimously approved the plans Tuesday with the exception of the Sabino proposal, which was not supported by Board Members Michael Hicks and Mark Stegeman.

Stegeman voiced concern that the desegregation plaintiffs and special master opposed it, saying approval in court is unlikely and if TUSD wants to form a partnership with the plaintiffs, concessions sometimes need to be made.

Hicks' opposition stems from concerns about safety in having seventh-graders on campus with seniors. He added that he hoped he would be proven wrong.

Fellow TUSD Board Member Cam Juarez urged against being deterred by difficult or unlikely tasks, with TUSD Board President Adelita Grijalva adding that the district needs to be responsive to what the community wants.

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

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