The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
As our first quarter of this new school year in Tucson Unified unfolds, I am thankful that my family has been able to learn from home and stay safe. The act of balancing full-time work and full-time parenting in this new reality is no small challenge. In addition to the role of mom, I have been playing teachers aide, IT director and lunch lady.
All of this has magnified my appreciation for TUSD’s remote-learning efforts. I feel confident that my daughter’s positive experience during this unusual new school year is shared by thousands of TUSD kids. I thank our teachers first and foremost. They have risen to this occasion, and my gratitude for them is beyond measure.
TUSD voted not to have in-person instruction until after the week of fall break, per recommendations from the county Health Department. I am in full agreement with this decision. For my family, continuing to learn remotely until the COVID-19 metrics in our community improve is nonnegotiable. But I also know that a hybrid model, which gradually brings students and teachers back to our campuses, may be necessary for families who need an on-site option.
Allowing for both a hybrid model and continued remote learning will help the district monitor problems and stay within the guidelines given by the Health Department. We must continue to hold the board accountable for making sound decisions like this one to keep our community safe.
We all want our students in school. It is in their best social and academic interest. But this has to be done with real investments in the health and safety of all, with a focus on retaining teachers and support staff, and a tangible commitment to equity and fairness. Federal, state, and local governments must also make these investments, TUSD cannot do this alone.
Just as the pandemic has underscored the adaptability and skill of TUSD’s teachers and its talented workforce, it has also highlighted the district’s need for leadership and guidance. Three board members are stepping down right as the most critical issues will be decided. Difficult decisions will have to be made about student and staff health, possible budget cuts, protecting resources and personnel, committing to the one-to-one technology investment and prioritizing academic achievement. Now more than ever, we must have our progressive, community-focused values represented on our local school board as these critical decisions are made.
We must assume nothing will go back to “normal” as it was before COVID-19. The long-standing instructional and organizational inequities that have plagued public education for generations have been magnified during this pandemic. It is time for the board to set equitable standards for academic achievement, employee satisfaction, and true financial transparency. It is the board’s responsibility to prioritize instructional outcomes — especially for English-language learners, students with disabilities who receive special services and other vulnerable populations who have already faced so many inequitable challenges before COVID-19 and continue to do so.
The TUSD Governing Board and district leaders must work together to use this moment to reenvision and reinvent public education for our community. The big sudden changes in 2020 will have impacts for years. Let’s use this crisis as an opportunity to transform school as we know it. During this critical juncture, we must elect three new members who truly represent us, and share our values of equity, inclusion, and excellence to drive our next steps. I am optimistic that we can transform TUSD for the better, and look forward to working together to ensure that our best days are yet to come.
Natalie Luna Rose, a candidate for the TUSD Governing Board, is a TUSD graduate, parent and a founding member of the Tucson Unified Parent Advocacy Council.