Vision Quest

Pima College Cranks Up A New High School For Native Americans.

By Chris Limberis

A NATIVE AMERICAN high school that will rely on taxpayers in a collaborative effort with space-starved Pima Community College is off to a rocky start.

Vision High School, with an anticipated enrollment of 80, will use 840 square feet of classroom space at PCC's Desert Vista campus on the southwest side, if the plan is approved by the PCC Board of Governors on August 26.

School officials are enrolling students now, while Pima College completes remodeling, to enable the school to open on August 31.

Currents The $1,500-a-month lease, which will move money from one taxpayer pocket to another, is just one of the difficulties facing Vision High School. Vision will receive $4,000 in state funds for each student.

Among the other concerns for Vision, which failed initially last year to win approval by the state Board for Charter Schools:

  • A top administrator whose classroom and school experience does not extend beyond student teaching and as a substitute eight years ago.

  • A governing board that bungled lease negotiations and was prepared to pay $8,000 a month for the PCC classroom space--until the Tucson Indian Center board intervened.

  • Potential conflicts of interest for Vision High School governing board members who also work for Pima Community College.

A brainchild of the tax-supported Tucson Indian Center, the Vision High School was spun off after the Tucson Indian Center Board became leery.

Its proposed administrator, Wilma Soroosh, holds a doctorate in educational administration and multicultural education from the University of Arizona. Now an employment coordinator at the Tucson Indian Center, a position funded through Pima County Community Services, Soroosh has held several advising and counseling positions at the UA and PCC. But she taught only during the 1990-91 academic year as a student teacher and substitute in the Sunnyside district.

A North Carolina Cherokee, Soroosh completed her doctorate in 1995. Her dissertation was on "Retention of Native Americans in Higher Education."

Soroosh deflected criticism, saying that many public school administrators are simply teachers. She says her experience, including as an owner of two businesses in Tucson--Oriental Rugs and Aaron's Autos and Trucks--also qualifies her to run Vision High.

Vision, an acronym for Victory, Incentive, Security, Initiative, Opportunity, and Nurturing, is guided by a six-member board that does not include a representative of either the Tohono O'odham or Pascua Yaqui, the predominant tribes in the Tucson area.

The Vision High School will be in Pima College space set aside for the college's Center for Training and Development, which is under the direction of Johnson Bia. One of the Vision High board members, William Pride works for Pima College and reports to Bia.

Pride says his job and role on the Vision High board are separate and that he does not have a conflict of interest.

Another Vision High board member, Denis Viri, is the former acting registrar Pima College and now is the college's director of Tribal Relations and Outreach.

Viri says he believes that his job, at district headquarters, is sufficiently removed from the Desert Vista campus that he avoids any potential conflict of interest. TW

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