Over 500 TUSD seniors did not graduate this past school year. Those students did not receive a diploma due to the fact that they had either failed the AIMS test, did not receive enough class credits to graduate, or both.
The vast majority, of those students, 357, had reached their senior year and failed to earn a diploma did because they did not have the required number of classes to graduate.
Pueblo High School had the greatest percentage of students who did not graduate; a total of 120 students out of a senior class of 334 (35%), failing to receive a diploma. Despite calls to give students more opportunities to take classes on the campus, students were offered a zero hour in which they were supposed to catch up on their studies.
Catalina was a close second to Pueblo, with 31.1 percent of seniors failing to graduate. Tucson High, TUSD’s flagship school, was a distant third with 115 seniors who were not awarded a diploma.
TUSD’s alternative schools had fewer graduating seniors than non-graduating seniors.
In January, the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board voted to cut school counselor positions. As a result, there will be one counselor for every 500 students. One of the primary functions of high school counselors is to work with students to ensure that they know how many classes they need to take in order to graduate and what classes would be appropriate for their future endeavors and skills. Assistant principals have also been cut across the board.
Those counselors and assistant principals will now be replaced with layers of administrators housed in the District’s central office. These new administrators will almost never meet any students except, perhaps, by accident. Many student advocates have complained about the failures of the District’s dropout prevention in the past. Evidence of those failures is found in the fact that, according to the District’s own data, of those students who began their senior year at a TUSD school, 228 seniors did not complete their last year in that TUSD school.
Many student advocates have that complained about the District’s dropout prevention in the past. As evidence of the failures, of those students who began their senior year at a TUSD school, 228 seniors did not complete their last year in TUSD schools, according to the District’s data.
While it is not known how many of those students left for other schools according to the data provided, many say that the District has done little to actually track those students throughout the year.
One parent tells of his son, who dropped out of school in his senior year last year, and it wasn’t until a this year, full year later, that the parent was contacted by the District’s dropout prevention specialist about his son’s status.
The Special Master in the District’s desegregation case, Willis Hawley, has focused on reintroducing multicultural studies, rather than increase the number of interveners for students. Hawley relies on highly questionable data, which claims that the studies will reengage the students. Advocates say that Hawley ignores the data which clearly shows that the students have been engaged enough t stay in school until their senior year only to discover that they do not have enough credits.
Rich Kronberg, a long time educator and public school advocate questioned the Special Mater’s priorities; “While Special Master Hawley has hired his friends to do-nothing positions on an advisory board that will not actually offer advice and created useless jobs for unnecessary administrators TUSD continues to fail its students in basic ways. When students do not graduate because they did not have enough of the right classes, or because the classes they needed to take were not available because the school failed to provide them, it is a symptom of a complete breakdown in leadership. Those TUSD administrators responsible for the allocation of resources and the supervision of TUSD high schools should be fired for their incompetence.”
Kronberg says that “even more critically, US District Court Judge Bury needs to re-examine his desegregation order and require that at least half the funds provided for purposes of desegregating TUSD schools and closing the racial and ethnic achievement gaps be allocated directly to TUSD schools so that teachers can be hired, more sections of required classes can be added where they are needed and learning can go on. Instead of adding “culturally relevant” courses that will indoctrinate students, Judge Bury’s Order needs to add more sections of required courses that will help students get the math, science, literature and history courses they need to graduate. It is time for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to, once again, remind Judge Bury that his responsibility is to help TUSD’s students meet their learning needs, not to the ideological or political needs of those adults…like Hawley, his friends and the two dozen new administrators TUSD will be forced to hire…who are continuing to benefit at the expense of those students.”
Another civil rights activist and public school advocate, desegregation representative Gloria Copeland has questioned that Special Master’s focus. She told popular radio host James T. Harris, in April that the Special Master’s plan amounted to a jobs program for school administrators. (Listen to the interview here.)
Copeland told Harris that “with the Special Master coming in, I really was hopeful that we would have some redress, and in some ways he is worse than the District because he is drawing thousands and thousands of dollars and his friends are drawing thousands and thousands of dollars and if you look at the Post Unitary Plan it is nothing about helping kids with achievement or the overrepresentation in suspension of kids. It is all about adults.”
Copeland and Kronberg were referring to the fact that TUSD was found to be acting in bad faith by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals when it overturned the previous Post Unitary Plan approved by Judge Bury. As a result the federal desegregation case was kicked back to Judge Bury to remedy the failings of TUSD through the development of a new Post Unitary Status Plan.
The old Post Unitary Status Plan, which had been rejected by the Ninth Circuit, changed little under Bury’s court appointed Special Master.
Copeland said the new plan is “worse than the ruling we had before. None of the money is going directly into the schools.” Copeland continued, “and who knows, they put in at least 10 new director positions, not to mention all the little off-shoot positions they are putting in there.”
“Numbers like these break your heart,” said Tucson businessman and former TUSD Governing Board candidate, John Hunnicutt. “These are not just numbers, they represent real kids. It is tragic for the kids, and our community. Small business owners recognize the need for a well-educated work force. Why can’t District administration? Our kids deserve better.”
Board member Michael Hicks said the “graduation numbers are a direct result of the District’s failure to staff our schools appropriately.” Hicks said the District needs to reconsider its priorities. “We are spending money on bells and whistles and classes kids don’t want while we cut the counselors, librarians, and other staff that have, or should have frequent interaction with our students. Over 500 kids paid for adults’ poor choices, and that is inexcusable.”
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