by David Safier
Sarah Garrecht Gassen got it right in her Sunday column saying TUSD should expand the criteria for admitting students to University High. The deseg plan mandates that UHS have an ethnic makeup closer to the district's, and that's only going to happen if the criteria for admission are expanded beyond a student's GPA and entrance exam score. After all, colleges look at essays and recommendations along with GPA and SAT scores. Why not UHS? When you broaden the enrollment base of a school, you enrich the campus by giving all the students a broader social experience, and you enrich the community by increasing the diversity of its best educated students.
The district should also look seriously at creating a second UHS campus. Its current campus, which it shares with Rincon High, is bursting at the seams. Along with TUSD students, the school attracts students from neighboring districts. This year's freshman class has about 175 out-of-district students, including some from top academic districts like Vail and Foothills. That's very healthy for TUSD, but district students have to come first, especially those who need to be included because of the deseg ruling.
Instead of seeing potential overcrowding as a problem, TUSD should consider this a golden opportunity to expand the UHS franchise. The district has lots of empty school buildings, and I've been told some high schools have enough space to create another UHS/Rincon-like situation. Either way, the space for a new campus already exists, so the cost of creating a new campus would be reasonable. And if creating a new campus means attracting more out-of-district students along with keeping in-district students who would otherwise flee to charters or neighboring districts, the construction and remodeling costs would pay for themselves.
But the real issue isn't the expense. It's making a world-quality high school open to as many students who qualify and want to attend as possible. To that end, I'll make a second recommendation. The new campus should be located in the general attendance area of schools with a high proportion of low income and Hispanic students. The current UHS is east of Swan. A new campus should be west of Campbell. That would make the school more attactive to students who would make UHS more ethnically representative of the district. UHS would become a neighborhood school for students who otherwise have to travel across town to attend. If UHS students tutored and mentored students at nearby schools on the west side, that could open a whole new crop of students to exploring academic vistas that had always seemed too distant to be a real possibility.
It's possible a new campus located on the west side would create a "separate but equal" situation creating ethnically unbalanced campuses. Some ethnic skewing would be inevitable, but to counteract it, I suggest the two campuses have different academic emphases. One could be, for instance, a Humanities-emphasis campus and the other a science/math-emphasis campus. I'm not sure those are the best areas of emphasis, but the point it, both campuses would offer similar, rigorous academic programs, and each would also have its own advanced, specialized courses and programs which would appeal to students with different areas of interest, meaning more students would travel out of their neighborhoods to take advantage of the different programs.
TUSD has a new Superintendent and a reasonably new board. What better time to take bold action like opening a new UHS campus?