Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

School staff not to blame at Lawrence

Citizen Staff Writer

Nearly 300 children in grades three through five at Lawrence Intermediate School are receiving a gift from their 13 classroom teachers.

The teachers agreed unanimously, by secret ballot, to give Lawrence an entirely new staff.

The teachers themselves determined in January that anyone of them who wants to stay must reapply for his or her own job.

That’s because, by a razor-thin margin, the school failed to make the grade under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Lawrence – labeled a “failing” school for four consecutive years – has brought its test scores up to performing levels in three of four categories: mathematics in grades three and five, and reading in grade five.

Among third-grade readers, though, only 52 percent met the mark. No Child Left Behind requires 53 percent.

At Lawrence, 83 percent of the children are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-cost lunches. More than 60 percent of the students are Native American, and about 36 percent are Hispanic.

Schools with high poverty and minority enrollments face daunting challenges in most cases.

Yet Lawrence has made steady, albeit incremental, progress against these odds.

The improvements weren’t enough to satisfy federal requirements, however.

Nor did the rate of progress satisfy the staff at Lawrence.

The effort to reverse trends at a failing school is a monumental undertaking, akin to turning around a battleship.

The Lawrence staff should be commended for its yeoman service on these young children’s behalf.

We empathize with the extraordinary fatigue the teachers must be feeling after accomplishing so much for so many, only to miss one category by 1 percentage point.

Most of all, we salute them for deciding that their students deserve a fresh chance under a new staff.

That decision in itself underscores their strong and selfless commitment to the students at Lawrence.

We urge the Tucson Unified School District to ensure that any new staff members sent to Lawrence will be every bit as dedicated to student learning as the current teaching staff has proved to be.

Try new fire tool

Arizona firefighters are appropriately nervous amid what is our driest winter in a century.

Now, the Federal Aviation Administration expects to approve a formidable new firefighting tool next month.

A Boeing 747 has been converted into a supertanker that can carry 24,000 gallons of fire retardant in one trip – 10 times the capacity of a DC-4 prop plane or P-3 Orion, and 24 times the capacity of the Erickson Air-Crane.

Granted, the craft requires 800 feet of vertical clearance, making it veritably useless in canyons.

But officials for both state and federal agencies responsible for fighting fires should explore how this 747, if approved for firefighting duty, might be used to combat conflagrations elsewhere.

It could provide good service over flat-land wildfires and on smooth mountain flanks, spots that are as vulnerable as forested peaks.

Our desert state today is a dangerous tinderbox, and Arizona leaders must prepare to break out every possible tool for our fire crews to use.

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