H.T. Sanchez has been on the job as Tucson Unified School District's superintendent for a month, and as promised when he made his debut at a community forum in June before he was officially hired by the district's governing board, he's been doing a lot of listening.
Sanchez says he wants more meetings like the one he had recently with more than 200 South Tucson parents, educators and community leaders. Between all this listening and engaging, Sanchez gave the Tucson Weekly 30 minutes to ask him a few questions. To read the full interview, go to the Weekly's blog at www.tucsonweekly.com/TheRange.
When you first spoke to the community you said you were going to spend the first six months listening. Who have you been meeting with?
In the last three weeks of course the South Tucson group was a great one. I've had a chance to sit down with our board members and hear what their thoughts were. Also through the principal director leadership meeting we had two weeks ago it was again a matter of asking ... what really worked, let's write that down; what worked but what do we need to improve, let's write that down; and what didn't make the first list. OK, why are we still doing it? So we captured all the information. It was an opportunity for me to hear from a roomful of over 200 people. We've put all that information together to begin identifying the trends in terms of what people felt worked, what people felt didn't and what needed to improve. So we've gone through that process. Of course I've visited with people here (at 1010) and all assistant superintendents one-on-one to find out what are the big projects and ask them the same set of questions.
What have you learned from these meetings?
Well, that everyone wants to see the district succeed and everyone has an understanding that as the district goes the community goes there's no way the community can exceed its own ideal for excellence if the district under performs to that ideal. That's been the consistent message and people seem very willing to do their part and they all have an understanding ... Biggest pieces have been a willingness to help, a willingness to move the district forward and understanding that this district doesn't move forward without the community and the community doesn't move forward without the district ... there's a lot of encouragement and encouragement in the sense that (they say) "When it gets difficult, stay in there, don't start looking. Don't leave. Stay in there. When it gets difficult don't run off. We'll be around to help make things better." That's been something that's been consistently said by everybody ... Even in South Tucson that was the message, "We're here. We're here. Listen to us, we'll listen to you. We'll work together, but don't run off when it gets tough."
How do you anticipate advocating for the district at the state level and do you plan to personally take part in such work with state lawmakers?
You know what's interesting is, again I go back to what's the will of the Tucson community. I'll advocate on behalf of the district always. That's not even a difficult question to answer ... If this is what the community says it wants and there are impediments in the Legislature and that they can remove those impediments, well of course I'm going to want to talk to them about the will of the community I am representing. But for me to go up there to say, "We need more money," and for them to say "For what?" "Because we need it." Hey that doesn't work with your kids. ... You have to have a plan as to what you need it for. ....
Any chance you'd consider bringing back a community advisory task force and, if not, why not?
The big thing is I want to go where people are gathered, engaged and plugged in. Again the Rotary has issued an invitation. The South Tucson community group has issued an invitation and they are there, they are ready and they want to do something. That's where I'll begin. In terms of duplicating efforts and saying "I am going to bring a community group of civic people together," when they are already together, it's not about bringing them to me, it's about me going to them. They are already gathered and have their meeting time, and have their rituals and everything set up. I want to be part of that. I don't have the hubris or ego to say, "I want them to be part of my group." What I am going to do as I go through these different groups, I am going to ask them to be part of the strategic planning group - that's the group that I want, that's the group I want to pull together and I want to pull them together so we can drive our purpose - curriculum, finance, facilities and all those areas. I want to meet with people and I want to hear from them. And then when we get ready to do the work, I want us to have that purpose and that's what drives our conversations.
TUSD and the press have had a contentious relationship over the years. At the forum, you were asked about building a relationship with the press/media and you stated you'd start by inviting them in to the district. This interview aside, have you and will that continue?
I've been very open. I think every week if you were to pull my calendar, I've visited with two or three different media groups - Bill Buckmaster, NPR, local NPR, national, every television station at least once or twice. The (Arizona Daily) Star very regularly and actually sat down for coffee with Alexis (Huicochea) and visited with her. That is something I am committed to do and up to this point I've done and look to be committed to do. ... I have a job to do as well, I want to make sure I am available to media but I also have to take care of the school district, and if all I do is talk to the media, I am not doing a good job.
Every time I hear you speak in public you talk about the strategic plan. When does that start?
... It's actually begun. By going out and having the conversation and saying here's what we're doing and I'm coming back to you and ask people to give some time and part of it is building relationships and understanding. Right now we are crafting a request for proposal for an efficiency audit and crafting a proposal for a curriculum audit and the boundary review. That's all part of it too because you have to know where you are in order to know what's the distance. You can't start to dream big about where we want to go without any idea of where we are because what if what we're dreaming about we've already begun and it's actually a year down the road that we'll be there - we really want to vision this. ...