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Cruz gets another year at helm of AISD

Thursday, November 1, 2018 by Jack Craver

The Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees only took a few minutes Monday night to approve a one-year extension of Superintendent Paul Cruz’s contract.

The extension means that Cruz will continue getting paid $310,000 a year through 2021. After getting a 1.5 percent pay hike last year, Cruz did not request a salary increase for the latest extension.

The board approved the extension 6-1, with only Trustee Ted Gordon in dissent.

Gordon, whose district covers much of Austin’s east side, did not criticize Cruz directly but said in a prepared statement that the he “cannot accept the status quo.”

In the weeks since he and other east side advocates put forward a manifesto calling for the district to take major steps to reduce economic and racial segregation between Austin’s schools, Gordon said that he and Cruz had had a number of “difficult conversations” about what needed to be done.

“AISD operates as two segregated school districts, one affluent with high levels of academic achievement and the other relatively less affluent with correspondingly lower levels of achievement,” he said.

Gordon made clear that his fellow trustees bore much of the blame for inaction and that the superintendent would not be able to make the necessary changes alone. However, his vote against Cruz represented his “proud dissent from the status quo.”

Gordon and other advocates, including the teachers union, have called on the board to redraw school boundary lines to reduce segregation between schools. Any attempt to redraw lines would almost certainly encounter resistance from parents who feel that their children are being moved to inferior schools.

Earlier in the meeting, Gordon expressed dismay over dramatic racial disparities in disciplinary rates for students at Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy. Despite making up only 22 percent of the student population, black girls accounted for 60 percent of disciplinary referrals for “disruption,” 56 percent for insubordination and 30 percent for harassing or threatening another student. About three-quarters of the student body is Latino, with white and Asian students only accounting for a combined 3 percent.

Sadler Means is the successor, along with the Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy, to Pearce Middle School and Garcia Middle School, both of which were consistently underperforming.

The model for Sadler Means is the Ann Richards School for Young Women in Southwest Austin, which is recognized across the state as a bastion of academic excellence. But Ann Richards boasts a student body that is racially and economically diverse (55 percent are economically disadvantaged and only 22 percent are white), while over 90 percent of Sadler Means’ students are low-income. About half of Sadler Means’ students receive passing grades on the state STAAR assessments, compared to 95 percent of Richards students.

“The District 1 community had real hopes for the single-gender experiment,” said Gordon. “Yet we have African-American girls and Hispanic girls who are doing terribly.”

Cruz responded that the district is working on reducing disparities on discipline by educating teachers on cultural differences and implicit bias.

“This isn’t who we are and who we want to be,” said Cruz, in reference to the disciplinary figures.

“There’s something tremendously wrong here,” Gordon replied later. “It’s sad.”

The only other trustee who spoke before the vote was Jayme Mathias, who credited Cruz for some “incredible outcomes” for the district. Mathias added that he was not “naive” and recognized the “difficult waters ahead.”

Photo via Google Maps.

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