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TUSD seeks to set new advanced learning enrollment goals

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TUSD seeks to set new advanced learning enrollment goals

Amphi get a new holiday; Sahuarita to vote on accepting opioid settlement terms, plus more in local gov't meetings

  • Tucson Unified School District continues push to increase participation in advanced classes.
    FacebookTucson Unified School District continues push to increase participation in advanced classes.

Tucson Unified School District will propose a strategy to get 40 percent of enrolled students to take at least some advanced learning by 2027.

TUSD's Governing Board will vote to approve the new goal after hearing a staff presentation on the overall strategy.

It's part of an overall effort to boost the district's advanced learning. In February the district voted to expand its GATE program by using "local norms," which means taking the district's top students rather than rely on a national measuring stick.

The district currently has 35 percent of its students taking one form of college preparation or another, so this isn't exactly landing a Badger on Mars.

Advanced learning, some might be interested to know, now includes a variety of kinds of schoolwork. There are honors, dual credit and accelerated courses, gifted and talented classes plus the Advanced Placement courses that a lot of people may remember from the days of yore.

But now it's courses like IB and AVID. IB is an International Baccalaureate program that is akin to AP courses but tends to focus more on "critical thinking." Critical thinking is suddenly defined along a range that includes understanding algebra and Plato to deep YouTube dives about the million ways everything we know is wrong.

AVID is Advancement Via Individual Determination because someone is trying too hard for a workable acronym. However, the program looks like a souped up version of what was called "study skills" when Sting and Bono were cool. 

Honestly, getting a firm grip on what AVID is proves difficult.

TUSD puts it like this: "AVID strategies are seen school-wide in every classroom on campus. AVID believes in building writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization and reading skills in every student." I won't even try to explain how the AVID organization describes itself. It doesn't help.

It's your basic curriculum to inspire and build students into achievers. The AVID web page claims that more than 90 percent of students who complete the program go on to four-year colleges. That's cool, I guess.

There are just a lot of these organizations like AVID that have been popping up promising to have the answer to student achievement. Some (not AVID) are for-profit and publicly traded, which tends to mean their first goal is to return shareholder value. 

Yet American students still fail to shoot the lights out with their test scores amid the buffet of advanced learning opportunities.

The school board will also decide whether to establish an Alternative Education Advisory Committee, which would oversee remote and online learning.

The pandemic, I imagine, provided a wealth of information about what works and what doesn't when students try to learn via video teleconferencing. Paying closer attention to 21st century schooling tactics seems like a smart idea.

A new holiday for Amphi  

Meanwhile, a committee created in the Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board has been working on a new compensation package for district teachers.

The committee doesn't have a full list of recommendations yet but has one idea that may catch on: Create a new holiday scheduled for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

While we're at it, Dec. 23rd could be a holiday and then Dec. 22nd at some point will have to be a day off before we figure out that the Winter Solstice used to be a holiday all over Europe.

The day off will make up for an extra day of planning prior to the state of the 2023-24 school year, if the board approves the idea.

District parents will dig it because they can use the Tuesday before Turkey Day as their travel day or be on the road hours early on Wednesday, while all the other families wait for school to let out in the afternoon.

The district will will also vote on an agreement with Tucson police to lease officers for school safety.

The rates are kinda crazy as Amphi pay for cops starts at $64.11 per hour for an officer, plus $15 an hour for a car. That's paid to the Police Department and not the officer. An emergency shift for a TPD commander would cost the district $121 an hour, plus the vehicle.

Amphi also got the results of its annual state Auditor General's report about the percentage of budget reaching the classroom. 

These audits are largely a charade of a day gone by. Gov. Jane Dee Hull championed an increase in school funding but part of that deal from 1998 required schools be audited for non-classroom spending on an annual basis.

The more a state skimps on school spending, the bigger share will go to fixed costs like feeding students, getting them to and from school and keeping the school climate controlled. 

Blaming poor school districts for failing to spend enough in the classroom is like blaming a starving child for their failure to bench press a cement mixer.

Even by those artificial standards Amphi does alright. It's pretty much on par with other peer districts and the test scores are pretty good. So nice work, Amphi. 

Supporting the support

The Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board will vote on a a few changes to support staff pay. 

The hourly wage isn't going up. The changes involve classification and sick time. Teachers will now be eligible for another step up in classification after the first school year on the job, so long as the teacher starts prior to Dec. 31 of a given year. Also, reclassification will be allowed the first school year after a promotion.

Basically, a change in classification is a moving up in rank so the pay range increases.

Another item on the agenda is a bit strange but understandable.

The district wants to classify some employees as official representatives of the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division. Since the coronavirus pandemic, the MVD has required the district register new vehicles in-person.

Having official representatives be able to work on the district's behalf and be responsible for registering vehicles means Sunnyside isn't sitting on a bunch of idle internal combustion.  

The Vail Unified School District Governing Board will look at a new incentive stipend for site council and honor's society coordinators.

The district was trying to figure out how to streamline the scoring for teachers involved in educational enhancement programs and the big idea was to remove the coordinators from the EEP process entirely. Just pay them a stipend of up to $2,100.

The board will also vote to create a new program coordinator job to focus on post-secondary success for special ed students.

The recommendation came after a review of the district's special education program was failing to account for older students in the district who were ill-prepared to graduate. Since 2008, the number of special education students in the district has increased by 80 percent. 

Water and weed

The Sahuarita Town Council will get an update about its new partnership with Global Water Resources.

Sahuarita and Global Water entered into an agreement in 2022 to head off a long legal battle. The town had been negotiating with Farmers Water Co., to buy the pecan grower's water system that had been providing service to Sahuarita homeowners.

Then Farmers decided to sell to Phoenix-based Global Water instead. So Sahuarita made noise like it would condemn the water system to take it for the town. Instead the two parties formed a partnership.

So there's no looming water war in Sahuarita.

Now Global Water is talking about getting a dedicated assured water supply certificate for all of the Farmers system covering about 21 square miles. The state certificate would give the service area more certainty because a "dedicated assured water supply" as defined by the state would give 100 years of supply.

The council will also vote on a settlement with several pharmacy chains in an opioid settlement negotiated by the state Attorney General's office. The total settlement amounts to $434 million. Local governments will get 56 percent of it.

As a non-partaker in Mother Nature, someone's gotta tell me why society just doesn't hand chronic pain sufferers a bag of weed. No, no. Citizens must take lethal opioids with myriad side effects far worse than the munchies and believing the lamp shade knowing – for certain – who is stoned.

The Flowing Wells Unified School District Governing Board will vote on a plan to put solar panels on four school sites. The district will pay the up-front costs, but using a direct pay federal program, the purchase is expected to more than pay for itself.

In fact, the district anticipates paying back the 20-year load and be more than $1.4 million in the black as a result.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.

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