Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Pima County’s voters elected three new board members to Tucson’s largest school district this November, bringing a variety of new faces and experiences to the school board.
Of the three new board members elected to Tucson Unified School District’s Governing Board, Natalie Luna Rose was elected with 24% of the vote, Sadie Shaw with 18% of the vote and Ravi Grivois-Shah with 17%.
All three new board members have children in the district and will be joining current TUSD parents and board members Adelita Grijalva and Leila Counts, whose terms expire December 31, 2022.
All the incoming board members agree with Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo’s decision to delay implementing a hybrid learning plan throughout the district until January as COVID-19 spreads substantially throughout the county.
Luna Rose, the communications and outreach manager for the Arizona Center for Disability Law, is considering the possibility of the entire school year being remote as metrics tracking the spread of coronavirus reach alarming levels.
“Frankly, judging by the numbers right now, I don't think we're going back Jan. 4, and I'd be really surprised if we're even going to be going back at all,” Luna Rose said. “I saw news reports that they're going to try to start rolling out the vaccine very soon, probably after the first of the year, but even then, that's going to take months for it to even reach Tucson and how are they going to distribute that?”
Shaw, an artist, was pleased with the superintendent's decision due to concerns for students and staff members, but she doesn’t agree with the hybrid model the TUSD school board approved on Oct. 6, which has been put on hold until January.
As a board member, Shaw says she’ll push for a new hybrid model that gives teachers more control in deciding to return to the classroom in-person. She’s also calling for a better hybrid scheduling system for working-class parents who may face issues picking up and dropping off their children with the current hybrid model’s half-day schedule.
“The hybrid model as it was presented at the board meeting weeks ago, it really was not a great model. Teachers had huge issues with it because there was no consent for the teachers. So parents had a choice about whether they wanted to stay remote or do the hybrid, but teachers, unfortunately, did not,” Shaw said. “Plus the fact that the scheduling of how they were sending kids back was counterproductive to parents' work schedules because it was a half-day type of thing. I think the model as it is now needs to be scrapped and rewritten to make one that works for everybody involved.”
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As a family physician with a master’s degree in public health, Grivois-Shah says Trujillo made the right decision in delaying hybrid learning based on public health metrics and says he’ll rely on “evidence-based” data to guide TUSD through the pandemic.
“As a family physician, I've spent a lot of 2020 on the frontline of managing health care, managing patient care needs during the COVID response...and so those are a lot of skills I'll bring to the TUSD governing board to look at plans for opening up for hybrid education,” Grivois-Shah said. “Making sure we are doing some education of teachers, staff, students and parents in terms of what are mitigations strategies, what are the expectations of them for safety, and implementing in a way that really protects our most vulnerable in our community.”
TUSD now has an all-parent governing board
Receiving the highest vote count, Luna Rose believes her success is based on her involvement as a parent in the district. She’s a graduate of Rincon High School and has a daughter attending a TUSD school.
“I'm not doing this for the greater glory of what's the next step in my career, I enjoy what I do and I'm not looking to jump from my work with supporting people with disabilities. So I'm just here as a parent, and that's what I talked about, I want parent voices on the board,” Luna Rose said. “I think you need people who are truly invested in the district, and those investments are children.”
Luna Rose received her wish for stronger parent input on the board, as all five TUSD board members are now parents in the district.
“I'm looking forward to working with this board. I think a lot of our views are the same in a lot of places,” she said. “Our job is to support the district, but also, the board's supposed to be the watchdog of the district.”
Shaw agrees having parent voices on the board will bring the kind of positive change the district needs.
“Not having a kid in the school, you don't really see the day to day happenings of TUSD. Of course, all of our children go to different schools, and every school is different. But I think leading as a parent is gonna really help the student experience,” Shaw said. “We see how they're struggling, we see where they're excelling and we're honest about it because we have a stake in it because it's our kids’ future.”
As both a TUSD parent and family physician, Grivois-Shah believes his experience will help him be empathetic in the decisions he makes as a board member.
“As parents, we really see first-hand the ramifications of our decisions. What does it mean for my daughter and her third-grade learning, and what does it mean for our families in terms of supervision and managing learning?” Grivois-Shah said. “Having that perspective as a parent I think is really important to really know what decisions mean for us, and how that affects other families throughout our district.”
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TUSD faces decreasing enrollment numbers
As of Nov. 15, the district has lost an estimated 2,851 students compared to last school year, according to Leslie Lenhart, TUSD’s communications director.
While the incoming board members are well aware of the issue, they have different ways to address dwindling enrollment counts as board members.
Luna Rose says parents who want their kids to attend school in-person are leaving TUSD for neighboring districts and charter schools, but that these schools “have to deal with the exact same issue that TUSD is, so it's not just a TUSD issue, it's a whole Pima County School District system issue.”
To increase enrollment numbers, she believes being open and honest as a district will draw families back in.
“I think just being transparent, and letting the public know this is what we're doing, and making decisive decisions and not kicking the can down the road is how you're gonna instill trust with the public,” Luna Rose said. “Hopefully, those who have left will see that we have a good district, we've got good schools, we have staff that work hard and that we're in the business of educating kids.”
Shaw says the district is in need of more extracurricular activities to encourage enrollment.
“I think providing incentives to students and parents to keep their kids in the district can go a long way,” Shaw said. “Having art, having music, having P.E. in every school, those are some of the things that charter schools don't always offer.”
Grivois-Shah agrees extracurriculars will draw more students, and that the new governing board comprised of parent voices will incentivize families to rejoin the district.
“When at some point in the future, we are through this COVID crisis, we are able to convince parents to bring their students back to TUSD, and I think it's going to help having five parents on our governing board,” he said. “TUSD should be the district of choice for our families, because of all the things that we can do that other district and charter schools and homeschooling isn't able to offer students in terms of academic achievement, the extracurriculars, the interactions with their peers, so many other things that really helped TUSD stand out amongst its competition.”
Board members' priorities
As the coronavirus pandemic permeates throughout nearly all aspects of students’ education, Luna Rose says she’ll push for better ventilation in schools and providing extra funding for PPE, increased sanitation and hazard pay for teachers and custodial staff.
In addition to tackling COVID-19 safety mitigation, Shaw says she’ll focus on increasing district-wide proficiency levels in math, reading, science and ELA.
“It's embarrassing how low the numbers are in TUSD. As a school district, if we're not doing our job, and that's the one job that we have is to educate, and if we're not educating efficiently, then we need to go back to the drawing table and figure out what's causing this,” Shaw said.
The new board member says she’ll also push for hiring more staff members and increasing their salaries.
“We need to treat our teachers better, they need to get paid more. There's a lot of holes in TUSD in regards to its employees, of course, there's a teacher shortage,” Shaw said. “But we also have not enough nurses, counselors or social workers, so I'd like to increase those numbers as well, because all of those professionals in the school districts help the students, and if we have a limited number of those employees, it's gonna take away from the students' needs.”
As a board member, Griovis-Shah will focus on holding TUSD financially accountable and ensuring every student has equal access to education.
“One of the big issues I ran on was making sure we have financial accountability and transparency in our district, and that our public has a good sense of what we're doing financially, and then how we're spending our money,” Grivois-Shah said. “Then also addressing disparities in our district, making sure that every student, regardless of their racial, socio-economic background, zip code, throughout our entire district have the same opportunities and challenges to succeed.”