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Candidate commentary

Counts: TUSD needs a systems thinker and that's why I'm running for the board

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." – Albert Einstein

On November 6, the voters living in the Tucson Unified School District will have an opportunity to vote for a new vision, new set of values, and new type of leader for the school governing board. This is an extremely important election that will determine the future of our city's largest school district and the educational fate of TUSD's 45,000 students. My name is Leila Counts and I am running for a seat on the TUSD school board. What TUSD needs is the voice of an educator, the devotion of a parent, and the mind of a systems thinker.

I have served and supported the needs of Tucson's children and families for the past 17 years as a teacher, counselor, advocate, and college instructor. In the field of education, I have worked with all ages from birth through college and adult students. I have helped build community in our city as a small business owner, teacher and active TUSD parent. I also have deep roots within the district, as my mother, grandmother and aunt were all hard-working TUSD teachers.

TUSD is doing some amazing things in spite of the challenges that face educators in Arizona. Sadly, our great state is dead last in the nation for teacher pay, one of the lowest in per pupil funding, and our state Legislature struggles to find ways to ensure equity and high quality education for all children. Imagine what we could accomplish if our legislative priorities reflected the value of high quality education and its impact on the economic potential and wellbeing of our state. This lack of recognition on the connection between the funding of high quality education and economic prosperity for Arizona citizens is problematic. Educators are expected to do more with less, yet everyday, many devoted TUSD teachers, administrators and staff show up, taking up the call of educating our most precious resource: Tucson's children.

My belief concerning these incredibly difficult circumstances is that it is necessary to take on these challenges with integrity, vision, commitment, and solutions that strengthen the system as a whole. With such limited resources, no dollar should be wasted and every penny should be put towards maximum benefit in delivering an excellent education for every student. That task will take a serious resolve to finding solutions. It will also require a systems thinking approach that supports a clear understanding of the current district and community system. Someone who understands the need for structures that will bring about growth, equity, and strengthening the whole that encompasses every part of a school community.

The "systems thinker" is always evaluating, analyzing, looking for inter-related pieces to a complex puzzle and most importantly finding sustainable long-term solutions. The questions we ask ourselves and other leaders in the room are, "How will this proposal either holistically support or potentially impair elements within the larger system? What is the bigger picture here? What are the possible unintended consequences of these decisions we are about to make?" Systems thinkers practice patience and prudence in decision making in order to prevent hastily half-baked plans that deliver short-term solutions with little attention to long-term, sustainable results.

As a systems thinker, I hope to optimize existing local education programs by building bridges that connect our students to a clear and manageable college and career pathway. For example, we can leverage the foundational skills developed in the J-TED program with an established pathway for students to enter college, career and university degree programs. Our graduates will benefit from credits earned in high school that lead to apprenticeships, community college and university degrees, building a successful, self-sufficient citizenry. Whether it is teaching certifications, nursing, building contractor licenses, or advanced degrees, students need a way to navigate the system based on their interests with clarity, hope and capability. Our current education silos are barriers to students being successful and every student deserves a promising future.

I have the skills and mindset to help build collaborative bridges throughout our community and develop the necessary connections that can co-create pathways for TUSD students. We are better together, and we can take on this system challenge with optimism, expertise and commitment to the Tucson Unified School District students, teachers, and families.

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1 comment on this story

Jan 31, 2018, 11:00 am
-0 +2

Running for the TUSD Board is tough! More details are needed, if this candidate is going to succeed.

Three of the current Board members are parents. Three of the current Board members are educators and a fourth has been an educator.

The two Board members who are up for re-election have long histories as activists in TUSD. One is an educator and the other works with children in the court systems. Both are very well informed about the issues facing TUSD.

People need to know specifically how you have been active in TUSD and what you want to do. It might be useful to start attending TUSD Board meetings and speaking out on issues that are before the Board or that should come before the Board.

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