by Cesar Aguirre
As I looked at today’s headlines I could not help but feel somewhat discouraged and deflated, which was the total opposite of how I felt last night. Yesterday I spent my day at the Strategic Planning Session, an all-day discussion to begin the planning of the future of TUSD. Afterwards I felt full of hope and optimism because for the first time I felt that the broader Tucson Community was finally being asked to be part of the rebuilding of the district. This morning’s headline on the front page of the Arizona Daily Star read, “Ground is familiar at TUSD’s $92K event Consultants give no new info but help to spur discussion” (2/26/2014).
As I read the article I quickly noticed the attack on the district, which also happened to be one of the topics discussed yesterday. In the second line of the story the amount spent is emphasized again and the article attempts to discredit the planning session by stating that the consultants hired did not tell leaders in the district “anything they didn’t already know or that hasn’t been said before.” What the article fails to mention is that the purpose and intent of the consultants was not to give us answers, but rather to look at creative and innovative models across the country and challenge the Tucson Community to think about how we can move forward together as a school district. Dr. Sanchez has said repeatedly that he does not know everything, especially when it comes to “what’s in the minds and hearts of this community,” and when talking to him after the session he said something that really resonated with me. He said that in order to have anything truly sustainable it needs to come from the ground up, not from the top down. Ever since becoming deeply involved with my children’s education all I can ever remember is the top down decisions, policies and pressures put on TUSD schools, educators, and families in order to try and “fix” public education.
I believe what has been missing in public education is the public. Yesterday, for the first time, I looked around the room and saw community members of all colors, cultures, and classes engaged in conversation around how to make TUSD better for ALL of Tucson’s children. At the table I was at we discussed how standardized testing does not provide educators with the meaningful information they need in order to know how well our children are doing or how the students learn. Also we discussed how to transform the spaces in our existing facilities in order to encourage collaboration, discussion, and critical thinking rather than your traditional desks in a row classroom. We discussed the importance of building relationships, of a well-rounded education, of identity and access to the study of all cultures. Many great ideas were generated and we discussed many other things, but the one thing that was at the top of our list was the public’s perception of TUSD schools.
It was mentioned many times that the only things being highlighted by the Star are negative, and even when the district, or TUSD schools, do great things it is ignored or somehow twisted into something negative by the media. For the first time TUSD has called on the community to work with them, side-by-side to improve our children’s education, and yet the Star has failed to include that in the article. As the session came to a close H.T. Sanchez said that he would be wasting our time if this strategic planning session wasn’t followed up on. He then laid out concrete next steps and even urged the group to hold him accountable!
In closing, I will say that again I feel pumped up and full of hope that TUSD will continue to work with the community to improve public education in Tucson!