In this week's Tucson Weekly, a story examined the lack of communication between an ad hoc committee, the Tucson Unified School District administration and the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council on the future of Richey Early Learning Center.
According to committee co-chair Ernette Leslie, who has been involved in the development of the school since Richey Elementary closed in 2010, a meeting is scheduled at the Pascua Yaqui Neighborhood Center, 785 W. Saguaro St., on Monday, March 10. The announcement of a meeting also came with good news attached in an email from Leslie—a Team Member Update from TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez that explained communications with Pascua Yaqui Tribal chairman Peter Yucupicio going back to mid-February:
On February 17, I had the opportunity to visit with Pascua Yaqui Tribal Chairman Peter Yucupicio. We discussed areas where we can work together for the benefit of our Pascua Yaqui students. Chairman Yucupicio and I had the opportunity to discuss Richey, as well. We talked about the origins of the conversation to reopen Richey as a charter school and community center, which began two years prior to my arrival. The information provided by the Chairman was invaluable in understanding the conversations regarding Richey leading up to when I became superintendent.
When I assumed the role of superintendent, Richey was slated to open in August of 2013, a month after I entered the district. At that point, I was informed that Richey would not be a charter school because paperwork required by the U.S. District Court had not been sent by the district. Rather, the direction would be an early childhood center and community center. Wanting to do my best to honor previous conversations, I asked staff to provide the needed updates to open the building for two classrooms of prekindergarten students.
The focus was to first support early education for Pascua Yaqui children and accept neighborhood and interested families thereafter. Also, details for the community center were to be discussed and cost sharing would be established through an agreement. To this point, the district has paid for all Richey teaching staff, utilities, custodial services, instructional materials, meals, and upkeep costs. Our staff has done a great job with the children.
Going back to my recent conversations with the Chairman, I have great hope for the future of Richey. The Chairman is supportive of Richey as a community center. This would open up the fields and facilities for the surrounding community. We also discussed opportunities for Pascua Yaqui language and culture to be part of the curriculum for students enrolled at Richey. Understanding that we are in the dreaming phase of the community center, Pascua Yaqui designees and TUSD designees will meet on March 18 to discuss the community center aspect and cost sharing.
We will continue to support up to two classes of prekindergarten students (ages 3 and 4) for the 2014‐ 15 school year. We will accept DES (Department of Economic Security) childcare support from eligible parents. We will have staff available to help complete any necessary information for this service. We will also offer any student who attended Richey in 2013‐14, the TUSD employee rate for childcare ($350.00 a month) at Richey. Any new student will pay the community rate ($450 a month) if a community member, and the partner rate ($400 a month) if an intergovernmental agreement exists between TUSD and the parent’s employer.
At the conclusion of the 2014‐15 school year, my goal is to have a good agreement between the district and the tribe. This should allow for a community center and early childhood education for neighborhood children, with an emphasis on Pascua Yaqui students. Currently, we have two Pascua Yaqui children out of the 40 students attending Richey Early Learning Center. I look forward to increasing the number of children from the tribe and seeing the school assume a new, viable role in the community that surrounds it.