KGUN 9NewsCommunity Inspired JournalismSouthside News


Southside principal shares the "magic" she brings to rebuild her school's reputation

Continuing the conversations sparked during Black History Month
utterback middle school
Posted at 12:45 PM, Feb 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 14:45:57-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The Tucson community is continuing important conversations during Black History Month. On Tuesday night, four Black women innovators shared their perspectives that have made a significant impact in the Tucson community.

The discussion, titled “Making Magic Happen: Black Women Enriching Tucson,” took place at the University of Arizona, where Black women innovators like Taranika Sanders shared the magic they bring to their roles.

As the principal for Utterback Middle School, Sanders has made great strides in improving the school since she became principal in 2018. When she started, Utterback had an “F” letter grade, and now it’s at a “B.”

Her conversations with the other women participating in the panel showed her approach to making a difference, specifically in underserved communities. To highlight her perspective, she sat down with KGUN 9 to continue the conversation.

As she dived into the “magic” of her work, Sanders said she couldn’t think of magic without associating it with the influence of love. She explained how she grew up with a loving family and builds her community around people who also lead with love.

“Definitely a guiding principle of that leadership is to always lead with love, but tough love, too,” Sanders said.

With the support she gets from her staff and community partners, Sanders is determined to utilize the community she’s built to reshape the reputation of Utterback Middle School. As an innovator with new approaches, ideas and perspectives, she credited her ancestors for inspiring that direction.

“Women in particular shaped experiences for black children despite systems that didn’t want them to be educated at all, disrupting that and teaching them what they knew to survive. And I still feel like that’s absolutely still true here in 2024,” she said.

The majority of her students are Black and Hispanic, which is why she makes it a priority for them to be connected with their culture. This is part of her approach in building successful students because she sees the value in creating a positive foundation to learn.

“The issues of education, how our black students are performing, our brown students are performing are forever at the forefront of my mind. And I think that’s something that needs to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. This is our future generation,” Sanders said.

She hopes families see the change her vision has already had on students’ success. The school’s enrollment has dropped significantly within the past five years, but she hopes to get the numbers back to where they were.

“Come to our campus and see if this is a space where you can picture your student being happy, healthy, loved and full of art,” she said.

Reyna Preciado is a reporter for KGUN 9, she joined the KGUN 9 team in July of 2022 after graduating Arizona State University. Share your story ideas with Reyna by emailing or by connecting on Instagram, or Twitter.