by David Safier
Proposal: Create a second, smaller campus of University High School with a Math/Science emphasis in one of TUSD's recently closed schools. The building will be renovated to make it suitable for high school students, a renovation which will include creating state-of-the-art biology, chemistry and physics labs as well as the highest network bandwidth TUSD can provide. Size: between 300 and 600 students. Opening date: Fall, 2014.
Due to a confluence of events, TUSD is at a golden moment to create a second University High school campus, something which can be accomplished in time for the start of the 2014-2015 school year. University High is ripe for expansion. An article in the Sunday Star makes it sound like the current campus housed in the Rincon High School building is both highly successful and bursting at the seams. It attracted 176 students from outside the district into next fall's
freshman class, the largest number ever. The influx of students helps reverse the District's decreasing student numbers, improves TUSD's reputation in the region and brings new funds to the District — $845,000 from the new crop of out-of-district freshman students. With its ranking as one of the top high schools in the country, University High will most likely continue to attract students from neighboring districts, if space permits. The only reason the school is able to accomodate the extra students in the fall and still
take all qualified TUSD applicants is because Rincon's
enrollment is shrinking, which allows University High to expand.
The court-orded Post-Unitary (desegregation) plan for TUSD will create still more enrollment pressures on University High. The plan requires the District "to increase the number and percentage of traditionally underserved students enrolled at University High School, with particular emphasis on African American and Hispanic students." Over the next few years as the District complies with the order and brings more African American and Hispanic students into the school, it will reach a point where some qualified students will have to be turned away. A new campus will allow the school to grow beyond what is possible at the Rincon facility.
Giving the new campus a Math/Science emphasis serves a dual purpose. It means Tucson's most promising and motivated future scientists and mathematicians will be grouped together with their peers, taking advanced courses and rubbing elbows with students who will stimulate each others' interest, creativity and achievement. It also means the new campus won't get the reputation as a second-choice alternative, an overflow school for students who can't squeeze into the original University High campus. It will be sought after by students who are eager to pursue a math/science education.
Though TUSD is strapped for cash, it will soon be rich in empty school buildings if the proposed school closures go through. The schools slated for closure are elementary and middle schools which are most likely not perfectly suited for high school students, but renovation of an existing building will be far less costly than building a new school from the ground up, and it will also mean one less empty building needing maintenance and regular school/police patrols to prevent deterioration and vandalism. Part of the renovation will involve creating the best equipped, most modern science and computer facilities possible, which will allow students to explore their chosen fields using equipment similar to what is found in university and private research labs.
TUSD will have nearly 20 empty schools if the schools currently slated for closure are added to those shuttered a few years ago. That creates an opportunity for TUSD to select a campus in an advantageous location. For instance, if the new University High campus were a mile or so away from a current high school, it could add value to both schools. An arrangement could be made to allow University High students to take advantage of opportunities a larger school can provide — drama, sports, music, etc. — while advanced students at the larger high school could take some of the specialized courses offered at the smaller campus. If the new school were set up in a lower income and/or Hispanic neighborhood, it could become an important educational resource for the community and help break down some of TUSD's ethnic and economic divide. For instance, University High students could stimulate the younger students' academic interest by doing demonstrations in neighboring elementary and middle school classes and possibly aiding and mentoring students. Promising middle school students could be bused to the nearby University High campus where they could audit courses (with a student assigned to mentor them) allowing them to experience science/math education at its finest and encouraging them to focus on their school work with the goal of joining the community of scholars at the University High campus in their own backyard.
It's rare that a single change can address so many issues at once and help TUSD grow as it improves students' educational experiences and encourages increased ethnic and social diversity.