Sunday, March 18, 2018

March 2018 Newsletter

Dear Friends of TUSD,

I hope this letter finds you well.  I have not written since January, so this letter is longer than usual.  I have tried to include some of the most interesting highlights from our meetings, to provide an update of the progress we are making in TUSD. 

I begin my summary of each meeting with a short statement of the number of unanimous votes the Board took at the meeting.  My intention is to highlight how often we vote together.  A community member was surprised to learn that we often vote unanimously to approve matters.  I suspect that others may be similarly surprised.  The media often focuses on the negative in order to get readers’ attention, but I realize that I cannot fault the media for seeking out an entertaining story. 

But I can provide my take on matters here.  Unfortunately, it is probably not as entertaining as some news stories, but I hope that it is informative.  You can find detailed Minutes, audios, and videos of our meetings, along with the presentations we received at each meeting at  If you think I have made any mistakes below, please do not hesitate to reach out.

On January 9, 2018, the Board voted unanimously to approve five items out of eight total that went to a vote. 

The Board elected Mark Stegeman as President and Kristel Foster as Clerk.  Michael Hicks is scheduled to take over as President after six months.  I would prefer that Dr. Stegeman preside over our meetings for the full year.  Dr. Stegeman nominated me for the position of Clerk, but I did not have three votes in support.  After five years on the Board, I do not begrudge Ms. Foster the opportunity of serving as Clerk of the Board, and I look forward to continuing to work with each member to set an example of effective leadership.    

On January 16, the Board voted unanimously to approve nine items out of thirteen total. 

We addressed the “Re-Integration of Mexican American Studies Back into Tucson Unified School District.”  We voted three-two to postpone the item until after we received a presentation on ethnic studies in TUSD. 

We voted unanimously in favor of hiring a new Interim Director of Transportation, to begin leading the process of revamping the Transportation Department.  We also voted to move forward with the repair or replacement of the Tucson Magnet High School sports turf as expeditiously as possible. 

We heard from the Superintendent about his plans for TUSD, in a presentation entitled Tucson Unified 2020: Forward for Kids.  In response to community input that TUSD is too big, non-responsive or slow, poorly resourced, top heavy, and that procedure is prioritized over service, Dr. Trujillo has devised a plan to split the District into five regions, each to be led by an Assistant Superintendent.  The regions were determined by examining the schools’ feeder patterns and physical location. 

Each region will have a dedicated team from central departments, including Human Resources and Purchasing, for example.  The plan seeks to streamline processes while it eliminates at least two administrative positions and provides savings of over a million dollars.  I think the key to success will be in how the plan is implemented, and I look forward to hearing about the processes and systems that will be established to ensure that feedback is used to improve.

On January 23, we took only one vote; the motion (to rearrange the agenda) passed unanimously. 

We discussed discipline policies from other school districts in Arizona.  We had requested the presentation several months previously in an effort to more closely align our discipline policies with the policies of other districts.  We continue to discuss how TUSD will improve our discipline policies for the 2018/19 school year.  I will clarify my request to the administration that it present a new Code of Conduct for a vote before May 2018.

We also received a presentation on instructional priorities in TUSD.  The ultimate instructional goals are student proficiency and academic growth.  The methods chosen to achieve those goals include:
·      systematically retaining high quality teachers,
·      providing more support to school administrators,
·      increasing the number of dollars spent in the classroom,
·      improving instructional support mechanisms,
·      providing time for professional development during the work day,
·      improving school safety and classroom discipline,
·      and focusing on K-3 literacy development. 
The main tactics for achieving those goals include focusing on more effectively implementing multi-tiered support systems for academically struggling students while simultaneously improving the implementation of separate student behavioral support systems. 

A multi-tiered support system (MTSS) provides students with the opportunity to study a given concept until they grasp the concept and are ready to move on, so students learn at their own pace.  Some students grasp a concept at the first level, when the teacher teaches the concept to the group as a whole for the first time.  Some students need further instruction (“a second pass”) to grasp the concept, and will do so at the second level, with smaller group instruction.  Other students need a more individualized third pass through the learning and instruction cycle to grasp a given concept.  MTSS helps teachers identify and assist students who are struggling at each level.  It is a research-based system that has shown success in providing students the individualization necessary and, if implemented properly, should continue to prove successful in TUSD.

Finally, we had our third budget study session, learned about the great programs we have in place for TUSD refugee students, and heard the second installment of Tucson Unified 2020: Forward for Kids.  In addition to improving instruction and behavior support systems, TUSD will focus heavily on increasing enrollment.  Tactics include changing the manner in which the District approaches staffing schools, relying more heavily on parents’ input, and eliminating ineffective practices and recruiting students more purposefully.  Recruitment events, media and communications, and parent ambassadors will help. 

Also, TUSD will offer evening classes to attract older students whose schedules interfere with school, and we have invested a great deal of time and other resources on expanding our preschool programs.  The preschool programs are high quality, and seats in them are coveted so fill quickly.  The programs also run at a profit; profits are used to lower tuition for employees and will be used to expand the programs.  The District will place more effort on ensuring that preschool students stay in TUSD for elementary, middle, and high school. 

On January 30, the Board voted unanimously to approve eight items out of twelve. 

One item was to approve an Intergovernmental Agreement between University of Arizona Center for Recruitment and Retention of Mathematics Teachers and TUSD, through June 30, 2020.  The purpose is to continue to assist us to attract and retain high quality math teachers—for every student. 

We received a presentation on TUSD’s Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Instruction, including Mexican American Studies.  We then considered the matter of re-integrating MAS back into TUSD.  We approved a motion, with three in favor, one against, and one who abstained, to “invite our Culturally Relevant Curriculum directors to do what is necessary to close the achievement gap in TUSD, by way of ethnic studies, if necessary.”  

On February 13, the Board voted unanimously to approve six items out of ten. 

We were unanimously in favor of accepting from the Tucson Roadrunner’s a donation of a DEK mat hockey rink.  The rink will be installed at Doolen Middle School, available for use by Doolen Middle School students and to the boys and girls who attend the Boys & Girls Club that is located on the Doolen campus.

We voted unanimously to approve the hire of a new Chief Technology Officer.  And we voted unanimously to approve the following bonus goals for the Superintendent:

1.     Increase student enrollment.
a.     Demonstrate no enrollment loss for the 40th day of the 2018-2019 school year as compared to the 40th day of the 2017-2018 school year.

b.     Demonstrate no enrollment loss for the 100th day of the 2018-2019 school year as compared to the 100th day of the 2017-2018 school year.

c.     Reduce the year-over-year enrollment loss, on the 40th day of the 2017- 2018 school year (i.e., as compared to the 40th day of the 2016-2017 school year), by 100 students by the last day of the 2017-2018 school year (i.e., as compared to the last day of the 2016-2017 school year).

d.     Increase the number of TUSD students attending CTE programs at JTED campuses by 10%, and increase the amount of students enrolled in CTE satellite programs offered at TUSD high schools by 10%, on the 100th day of the 2018-2019 school year as compared to the 100th day of the 2017-2018 school year.

e.     Increase the number of seats available for Pre-K students.

f.      Increase the number of Pre-K enrolled students that enroll in TUSD kinder programs by 10% by first day of school 2018-2019.

2.     Increase student academic achievement.
a.     For the school year 2017-2018, increase AZMERIT average performance over 2016-17 average performance (using: approaches pass = 1, pass = 2, and high pass =3) in ELA and Math by: 10% for all grade .

b.     Achieve the same percentage increases for the school year 2018-19, over 2017-18.

3.     Increase the amount of District dollars associated with classroom instructional spending, and decrease the amount associated with administration, as measured by Arizona Auditor General.

4.     Decrease the number of classrooms without certified teachers of record.
a.     By the first day of the 2018-2019 school-year there will be a 30% reduction in teacher vacancies as compared to the number of teacher vacancies on the first day of the 2017-2018 school year.

b.     By the first day of the 2018-2019 school year, there will be a 10% reduction in vacancies for Special Education (ExEd) and math and science teaching positions.

c.     By the first day of the 2018-2019 school year, there will be 10% increase in student teachers assigned to District classrooms.

5.     Improve campus climate, culture, and student discipline.

The Board voted four-one to approve a plan to begin “reinvigorating our high schools.”  The plan includes:

·      TUSD will remedy site maintenance deficiencies, as revealed by the 2016 high school reconfiguration reports, at the University-Rincon and Catalina High School sites.

·      TUSD will continue to work with Pima Community College and Pima County’s Joint Technical Education District (JTED) and private entities to develop vocational and dual enrollment opportunities and expand Career & Technological Education (CTE) programs at Santa Rita High School.

·      Catalina and Palo Verde High Schools will each establish a 7-period daily schedule for the 2018-19 school year to enable teachers to work together during the school day.

·      Catalina High School will offer the Achievement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program school-wide, beginning in 2018-19.

·      TUSD will begin to offer evening school/extended day programs at Catalina, Sabino, Pueblo, and Sahuaro High Schools during the 2018/19 school year.  The programs will focus on credit recovery, and transportation will be available.

Finally, the Board approved an updated version of our Grading & Assessment Systems Policy (IKA).  The purpose of the update is to make clear that, regardless of how statute may change, teachers have a right to assess their students, and only the Governing Board has the authority to overturn a teacher’s decision to pass or fail a middle or high school student.  Principals do not have the authority to change a teacher’s grades. 

On February 20, we took no votes.

We met in the auditorium at Catalina High School for a Board Retreat, facilitated by Dean Pickett, a school law attorney and widely trusted authority on school board leadership.  Mr. Pickett led the Board in a discussion about our organization, collaboration, and decision making as related to the District's stated mission, vision, and values, as well as Board policies.   We discussed principles for Board development and agreed to meet with the Board member of Mr. Pickett’s choice for coffee with constituents at a later date. 

As a result, I met with Ms. Kristel Foster on March 10.  About twenty TUSD community members showed up to meet and chat with us about TUSD.  We discussed substituting in TUSD under ESI, raising teacher salaries, discipline, and more.  It was a very productive discussion, and I look forward to meeting in the same fashion with other Board members also.

PLEASE NOTE: My next Sit & Chat will be on March 24 at noon at Maynard’s Market.

On March 6, the Board voted unanimously to approve four items out of six. 

We received a presentation on TUSD’s Crisis and Emergency Response Readiness systems.  According to Arizona Dept. of Education guidelines and best practices, School Safety created new emergency plans in 2015-16.  They include the strategic placement of armed officials, organized support to schools during drills and emergencies, and an Emergency Response Trailer, paid for by ADE grant.  All schools have updated emergency plans that include reunification sites, where central support teams respond and assist.  TUSD has also implemented training and runs evacuation and other emergency drills at each school site.  Finally, each school has one designated entry place with access control systems that vary by site in sophistication.  School Safety continues to work on ensuring that each site has the most sophisticated protections available.

The Board discussed TUSD’s policy on Weapons in School (JICI).  We reiterated that students are not permitted to bring weapons on campus.  State law provides that students who threaten to bring or bring a gun on campus will be expelled unless the Board makes an exception. 

Administration provided a presentation on an action plan for improving standardized test scores on the AzMERIT test.  The plan includes awarding elective credits to students who perform well, implementing additional response-to-intervention (RTI) academic assistance systems to ensure that students have the second and third pass learning opportunities necessary to ensure mastery, and providing the supports necessary to teachers to improve level one instruction.

Targeted learning tutoring sessions are also an important part of TUSD’s plan to improve.  The purpose of the sessions is to provide targeted literacy and math instruction to students who are partially proficient or minimally proficient according to AzMERIT. You can watch a video about them here: 

We also discussed lowering the student-to-school counselor ratio in TUSD from 500 to 400.  Research suggests that 250 is ideal.  I would like to see TUSD fund counselors at that level.  Still, I trust that a change even to 400 will assist our counselors to ever more effectively fulfil their essential duties in our schools. 

Thank you for your time and support.  As always, I look forward to receiving your feedback and ideas about how we can continue to improve.


Rachael Sedgwick

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