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Candidate commentary

Ragan: TUSD Board needs hope, despite unknowns

“I don’t know.”

As a teacher, I’m comfortable with those three words. I actively seek them out. They are part of the growth mindset I teach my students. Recognizing you don’t know something is a key step in acquiring new knowledge. “I don’t know” is uncomfortable to say, but hear me out on why saying it gives me hope.

Since schools closed last March to in-person learning, I’ve said “I don’t know” a lot. I say it to my high school seniors when they ask when they can come back to school and what’s going to happen to prom, graduation, Senior Night, Spirit Week. All the traditions they have rightfully expected to be theirs are met with my candid “I don’t know” because teenagers can sniff out the bull when you try to placate them.

As the site representative for my union, my colleagues come to me for help. Before COVID-19, I was able to give them solid answers. I know the policies and procedures like I wrote them myself. As my department’s co-lead, I work with district and school administrators to ensure everyone’s needs are being met. More often than not, I’m saying “I don’t know” when they come to me. Let’s face it: the times we’re in don’t easily lend themselves to answers.

As a person of faith, I’m guided by the precept that “This too shall pass.” Moments of trial rarely outlast our ability to get through. Difficult times give way to better days, like that old saying: “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” So I keep going. My colleagues keep going. My students keep going.

Yet the pandemic has painfully highlighted inequities in our schools. Being a 1:1 district that guarantees laptops doesn’t answer the question about access to dependable, high-speed Internet. Even when schools have devices, they don’t always get into kids’ hands. Taking students out of school leaves working families in a bind for childcare. That leaves parents taking time out from their jobs. When a majority of our kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, shuttering schools requires districts to find other ways to feed kids. Teaching virtually isn’t the same as teaching in-person. Every single teacher has been putting in overtime to adapt lessons, learn new tech and think of creative, engaging content to keep students tuned in, often at the expense of their own family time.

This too shall pass. When? I don’t know.

I truly believe great things emerge from trials of adversity. We should be encouraged by the conversations around inequities in education because in naming them, we take the first steps to address them. I’m hopeful that these conversations result in real systemic changes in our schools. Because the old way wasn’t working. It won’t work if we want to build something better.

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When the pandemic has passed, I hope we don’t return to the old ways in the Tucson Unified School District. We need to build better, stronger systems that ensure every kid in every zip code has access to a top-quality education in a school that fosters a growth mindset. We need a district that not only attracts high-quality educators, but actively retains them by respecting them. We need a district that works for our working families because they are the heart of this community. So while the pandemic will pass, I hope it leaves a brighter future in its wake.

That brighter future starts this year with three open seats on the TUSD Governing Board. Three new board members will take office in January. I hope to be one of them.

Before the pandemic, I had a whole platform of issues I wanted to address. From making sure the budget gets spent on kids to building the systems our students and staff need to thrive well into the 21st century, I believe my perspective as a K-12 public school teacher is crucial so that the board doesn’t lose sight of who they ultimately serve: the students.

I know what it’s like to be in the classroom and have to live with board decisions, the good ones and the bad ones. That’s what I do every day. It’s even more true now that I’m teaching virtually through the pandemic. And when this passes, I will be back to in-person teaching. I don’t know what that looks like. Nobody does, although it’s on us to decide what our future will be.

So I am hopeful even when I don’t know.

I know we will be dealing with the pandemic’s immediate effects for the foreseeable future. I know that we have some heavy lifting to do to build a better district. I know that I am ready to take on the work. Will this election be the turning point we need at TUSD? I don’t know but I hope.

Adam Ragan is a high-school English teacher, college writing instructor and advocate for public education. He is running for a seat on the TUSD Governing Board. He can be reached at ragan.arizona@gmail.com.


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