Maria Marin, one of four candidates vying to be the next superintendent of Tucson’s largest school district, had a message for Tucsonans who are tired of hiring a new leader every few years: She’s here to stay.
In her first public appearance as a candidate for the job of superintendent Tuesday, the 24-year veteran of the Tucson Unified School District emphasized her deep roots in the community, large family and the fact that she’s spent her entire educational career in TUSD.
Marin is a native Tucsonan who currently serves as director of elementary and preK-8 schools, and previously as principal of John B. Wright Elementary, Roskruge Bilingual K-8 Magnet School and Carrillo Magnet School. Before that, she was a teacher at several TUSD schools.
Marin was the second of the four finalists to face the public at a series of forums scheduled this week. In a conversational, two-hour appearance in front of about 100 parents, teachers, TUSD board members and employees, she intertwined personal stories about her time as a teacher, principal and administrator in TUSD, with her views on the problems, solutions and bright spots in the state’s second-largest school district.
The audience got straight to the point, asking how she plans to run a massive K-12 district without having any background in high school administration.
Marin said while she doesn’t have high school experience, her years in K-8 administration have given her a good overview of many integral parts of TUSD, such as academic directors, Mexican American Studies, finance and purchasing.
But more importantly, Marin said, she’s a fast learner who will ask a lot of questions of the experts around her.
“I have to hit the ground listening,” she said. “Listen, and then ask questions of our leadership, our students, parents and the community, so I can identify key priorities and so I know how to support them.”
Marin voiced support for the district’s Mexican American Studies program, and noted that although the Legislature essentially banned the old program, the district still offers culturally relevant courses and services.
As a certified bilingual and English as a Second Language instructor, Marin is also a big supporter of dual-language programs, which aim to produce bilingual students, saying the ability to speak more than one language is important for students to be competitive in not just Southern Arizona but the world.
“Much of the world is bilingual, trilingual, multilingual,” she said. “It’s good culturally, economically, politically.”
An audit last year found those dual -anguage programs, however, had significant weaknesses, and TUSD has since been working to improve them.
The district’s longstanding desegregation order may soon be coming to an end, Marin said. And if that happens, it will be both a boost for TUSD and a hardship.
Schools will no longer have to file the many reports showing they’re complying with the unitary status agreement, but funding to help TUSD comply will also dry up, she noted.
Marin said to make up for those lost funds, the district could take a page from her playbook at John B. Wright Elementary, where she brought in members of the business community to support students by helping pay for programs and offering their time to do presentations and lessons.
“They didn’t just give us money. They were an active part of the school. And guess what? I have been gone for three years and those donors fell so deeply in love with Wright and the staff and their commitment, they continue today to donate in a variety of ways,” she said.
In her first 100 days as superintendent, should TUSD’s five-member school board choose her, Marin said one of her big goals would be to do a full analysis of the district budget.
When posed a question about her experience dealing with the Legislature “which does not seem to care about public education,” Marin responded that she doesn’t have much lobbying experience, but she’s a good talker.
“I learn fast. I ask a lot of questions. I’m never quiet, and if you know me, you know that’s the truth. So I just figure if I they don’t want to give us money, I’d just talk to them so much until they got sick of me and sent me away with a bunch of money. It’s worked with some business leaders,” she said.
Audience members also asked how Marin would deal with low morale among TUSD employees.
Marin responded that it’s up to all TUSD employees to make a conscious decision to go to work every day and feel good about their jobs.
Marin, however, said she has a hard time focusing on the negative and prefers to look at the district’s assets and what she hopes will be a bright future.
“I really believe that we are just on that trajectory. All the work has been done and it’s time to harness our energy so we just take off, to what seems to the world like overnight success,” she said.