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Guest opinion

Foster: Why I am not running for re-election to the TUSD Governing Board

For the last few months, many people have asked if I'm running for the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board again in 2020. Before I made any decisions, I thought I should consider what my contributions have been so far and what I hope to accomplish as board President this year.

In 2013, after my first few meetings as a new board member, and still riding a steep learning curve, our superintendent announced his retirement and we were charged with hiring a new leader for the second largest school district in the state. We hired Dr. HT Sanchez, a first-time superintendent with great vision as well as project management skills, and transformation began.

We were heading in a new and positive direction, with a strong message that TUSD was done closing schools and done laying off teachers. Previous leadership closed 20 schools in a span of two years, and too many teachers were getting pink slips as part of the process of balancing the budget. In 2013, the closures and pink slips stopped. In 2014, by creating and following a solid strategic plan, we started to improve our academic performance, market our message, decrease enrollment loss, re-open closed schools and raise salaries. We had difficult decisions, but these priorities kept us focused.

Although I won my re-election in 2016, there was a great shift on the TUSD board and we were faced with a substantial departure of district leadership. Not just the superintendent, but almost every director under him, quickly left or was soon let go. Dr. Gabriel Trujillo is one of the only ones left and I am grateful that he stepped up to take the lead. He has tried, as well as anyone could, to finish the work of our 2014-2019 strategic plan.

With no respect for this work, some board members tried to push their own ideas forward, bringing substantial changes to the table. This piecemeal approach caused chaos and confusion. Board decisions are best when guided by a concrete plan and consistent vision.

The TUSD strategic plan we adopted in 2014 incorporates the federally mandated Unitary Status Plan, which guided us to comply with the orders from the desegregation lawsuit. This work is the right work and has transformed our district for the better.

We have become national leaders in culturally relevant pedagogy (ethnic studies), restorative justice and dual ianguage instruction. When I attend educational conferences and hear how other districts are approaching this work, I am always reminded of how truly advanced we are when it comes to serving the diverse students in our public schools. I am proud to be part of the team that has committed to these goals, embracing them rather than challenging them. Completing the Unitary Status Plan and being released from federal oversight will not end this commitment. It will refocus tax payer money (desegregation funds) to students and schools, rather than on legal fees and written reports for lawyers and the courts.

While completing my last year of my elected term, we have partnered with JTED on a new high school and hope to re-open a middle school. We are crafting a new strategic plan with our community for 2020-2025 so our district has a clear direction and vision to follow. We're completing the last tasks assuring our release from federal oversight by the end of this year. We've joined the #RedForEd movement to demand our state re-invest in teachers and students instead of dis-investing in our public schools. We lead the way at the Legislature, testifying and showing up to support this work and stand against the threats to veer us away.

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I am proud of these accomplishments and the stated goals for this year, therefore at the end of this term, I will step down from the Tucson Unified Governing Board.

I hope the person who moves into my place answers a call to action, from others and then from deep within themselves, to continue to reinvest in public schools and truly serve the students we are trying so hard to educate in Arizona today.

I encourage voters to select someone who is a parent of students attending TUSD or an educator working in some capacity in the public school system. I also ask voters to think about which region of TUSD these individuals come from. Internally, we have divided the district into five distinct sections, and we are beginning conversations at the state Legislature to consider a ward system for electing board members to these seats. TUSD is a large district and each region has particular issues. Each community within our large district should have a voice on the board as the next group of leaders guides our district into the next decade.

It has been an honor to serve Tucson Unified as a Governing Board member. It has transformed me and given me opportunities to learn and grow in ways I had never imagined. I am more committed than ever to the fight to save public education and traditional school districts in our state.

Public schools are essential to the America we dream about and vote to protect with every election. Stay engaged, stay involved. I'll see you as we campaign together for all the leaders up and down the ballot in November 2020.

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197 comments
Mar 4, 2020, 1:35 pm
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Thank you for your service to our young people, Ms. Foster. It can be a thankless job, I know. My father served on our small-town board for years.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Foster during a 2017 TUSD Governing Board meeting.

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