Johnson Primary School on Tucson’s southwest side has been named Pima County’s first, and thus-far only, failing traditional public school by the Arizona Department of Education.
The Tucson Unified School District school serves pre-K through second grade. More than 370 students are enrolled at the school, 59 percent of whom are Hispanic and 36 percent are Native American.
TUSD officials acknowledge there are problems with the school, which they are working to correct. Aside from having to implement a corrective plan, there are no penalties for receiving a grade of F.
In all, 12 schools across the state received an F rating. The only other Pima County school to fall into that category is AllSport Academy, a charter school with less than 100 students, which had its charter revoked in May.
Maricopa County had three F schools, Apache had four, Navajo had two and Mohave had one.
The state released letter grades for Arizona schools in August but did not identify any F-rated schools, saying it wanted to allow schools to go through an appeals process first. That process is now complete, and the Department of Education posted the official list of F schools on its website last week.
Johnson’s grade is based on three criteria — the percentage of second-graders who are on track to proficiency on the third-grade AIMS reading and math; the percentage of second-graders at or above a certain level on the Stanford 10 assessment; and the percent of English-language learners who are reclassified.
Of the 203 possible points a K-2 school can earn on the Arizona Department of Education’s grading scale, Johnson scored 67. Last year, the school received a grade of D, and the year before — the first year letter grades were issued — it was not rated.
The district is now working on a three-year plan to address the issues at the struggling school, implementing a transformational model that focuses on professional development and instructional practices rather than a change in staff, said Steve Holmes, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
“This is primarily a culture change,” added Tina Stephens, TUSD’s school-improvement director. “We are looking to change our focus and continue with the people who are there, working strongly to get a greater focus on achievement.”
The letter grade, however, is more than a culture issue.
“When we dug deeper into the data, we found that a lot of it has to do with a lack of curriculum consistency that focuses on foundational reading skills,” Holmes said. “There is a need for common expectations on what should be taught and the resources to be used.”
While TUSD acknowledges there is work to be done at Johnson, the district did attempt to appeal the grade but was unsuccessful, Holmes said.
Even though the implementation of a school-improvement model is required by the Department of Education for failing schools, the state does not provide any funding support like it has in the past, Stephens said.
Despite the label, TUSD is working to assure parents and community members of the work being done, Holmes said.
“We are working collaboratively, and we have a really good plan to move this school in the right direction,” Holmes said.
Add to that the hiring of a new principal, which is not a byproduct of the letter grade, and the district is confident that it can drive Johnson into improvement, he said.