Sunnyside Unified School District

Sunnyside Unified School District (SUSD) is the second largest school district in Tucson, Arizona and includes the San Xavier Reservation. The district serves 16,831 students (91% minority, 86% free and reduced lunch, 21% English Language Learners, and 4% homeless).

Desired Outcomes and Project Goals:

  • Build capacity in Operations and support departments.
  • Investigate and explore the impact on student achievement when implementing systems thinking (ST) in Operations.
  • Practice problem-solving processes using ST Habits and tools.



With counsel from the Waters Foundation, the SUSD Operations Team has taken charge of monthly meetings, specifically applying ST tools and Habits to problems of practice. A process is used that provides participants feedback both through Waters Foundation coaching and from peers in structured team meetings. Departments have identified, created and implemented solutions for: “after the fact” purchases in Finance, customer service challenges in Human Resources, new system implementation, including a rollout of an electronic time system by Information Technology, management of work load assignments in Maintenance, upholding positive public relations, and mediation of employee issues in Transportation.

There has been a shift in the mental models of utilizing ST with students and staff by the Superintendent and Chief Schools Officer. During the last grant year, Sunnyside Unified School District involved a group of core students to lead systems change. Through participation in a group modeling process facilitated by students from the Social Systems Design Lab at Washington University, this core group of students is helping define components of student success within the district. The students presented their work to the SUSD School Board and continue to meet monthly to examine elements of student success while building their capacity to utilize systems thinking tools.