by David Safier
This isn't a new idea. It's a revival of an idea TUSD board member Mark Stegeman proposed during the whole school closure debate in 2012. It's on the agenda again (Item 10) for the upcoming board meeting Tuesday, November 12.
You can read the proposal here. The basic idea: Shut down a TUSD high school, send all of its kids to other schools and reopen it as a new, larger University High School (UHS). I assume this would mean shutting down the current UHS at Rincon High, though that isn't spelled out in the proposal. The purpose is to expand UHS, both to accomodate a larger number of TUSD students as mandated by the desegregation plan, and to continue to make space for students from neighboring districts to enroll in the school.
I think this is a terrible idea, not because I oppose the expansion of UHS — I think it's a good, and probably a necessary, idea — but because I oppose the way Stegeman wants to go about it. He's putting TUSD back into that nasty, divisive school closure territory once again, this time at the high school level. His proposal would mean displacing an entire high school student body and sending the students elsewhere. An all-inclusive high school would be closed, which would have a negative impact on the neighborhood. I haven't seen any specific recommendations from Stegeman about which school he's targeting — I imagine he has one or two possibilities in mind — so I don't know what school would be emptied of its current students.
Stegeman's plan has an elegance to it because of its simplicity. Any other solution to the overcrowding problem at UHS would be more complex, and possibly more expensive. But if a simple idea is a bad idea, as this one is, the district needs to do something it hasn't done for ages: think outside the box, look for creative solutions which, if not entirely win/win, are at least win/don't-lose-very-much-with-ways-to-mitigate-the-losses.
My suggestion is, create a second UHS campus, preferably on the west side of town. It could be in an under-enrolled high school, using a similar model to the Rincon/UHS approach, or in a recently closed school, remodeled to accomodate the needs of high school students. Keep both campuses equally rigorous with the same basic UHS curriculum, but give each a specialty where students can progress even further in certain academic areas than they do now. One campus, for example, would be a math/science magnet with specialty courses in some of cutting edge areas of math and science, while the other would be a humanities magnet that takes some aspects of the arts, literature and the social sciences beyond what is currently offered. That would attract students from different areas of the city and different socioeconomic strata to both schools, making the location of the school secondary to its academic offerings.
Would this idea work? I don't know. But it should be on the table along with other ideas suggested by parents, the community, TUSD staff members and university-level scholars. Let's avoid the draconian school closure answer and move toward more creative solutions which increase inclusiveness and excellence across the board.
NOTE: Stegeman's plan also includes a magnet middle school to be built near the new UHS. I didn't include that idea in this discussion. It's an interesting, outside-the-box idea — from what I've heard, middle school is the weakest link in TUSD education — which needs to be discussed on its own merits. Right now, it looks like a way to make the closure of a high school more palatable.