School starts in Sunnyside after tumultuous year - Tucson News Now

School starts in Sunnyside after tumultuous year

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Every school year brings changes and challenges, but the challenges are pretty big in Tucson's second largest school district.

School closures, budget battles and a superintendent controversy are among them. They are all things students, parents and teachers in the Sunnyside Unified School District can only hope are all behind them on the first day of a new school year.

To say things were a challenge last year in the Sunnyside district might be the biggest understatement of the day.

The school board went through a recall election, the district got a new superintendent, and school closures and consolidations forced children to attend all new schools.

Still, things seem to be settling down after a year of turmoil.

Many parents and students are getting used to new schools because their old ones closed down after voters rejected a budget override last year, and the district had to find $5 million in savings.

There has been a lot of juggling, finding room for students while trying to keep them in their neighborhood schools.

Still, district administrators are looking at all of this as an opportunity to change the way the district does things. For instance, the closure of Los Ranchitos Elementary helped turn Sierra Middle School into a "2 through 8" school.

It also means Sierra is more of a community school.

"I think our ultimate goal is to create an environment where families feel welcome and want to be here and want their kids to be here. And where they want to be a part of the school equally as much as their children are," says Sierra 2-8 School Principal Donna Samarano.

As a middle school, Sierra has risen from a "D" rated school to a "C" rating.

The Sunnyside District is working to turn one of its closed schools, Chaparral Middle School, into a K-8 fine arts school. The plan is to open it within the next two years.

Chaparral students have been moved from chaparral, a "D"- rated school to Challenger Middle School that also has a "D." However, Chaparral is a turnaround school.

That means Challenger is starting from scratch this year. It has an all new administration, and most of the teachers are new, too.

We're told some have been recruited from other parts of the country.

The school is getting a $3.5 million school improvement grant from the state and there are many other resources being directed at Challenger Middle School, including an administrator assigned to each grade.

"Working very, very diligently, doing lots of work in terms of principal coaching, doing lots of work in dealing with issues relating student attendance and related to behavioral kinds of issues, health and wellness issues-- so that we really are completely redesigning that school and have every expectation that that school is going to have much stronger performance at the end of this year," says Sunnyside School District Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jan Vesely.

The hope is that the small school feel that's being created will help the entire process.

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