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Austin ISD says second draft of school changes will emphasize academics district-wide

Thursday, September 19, 2019 by Claire McInerny, KUT

At a live discussion of the Austin Independent School District’s proposal to overhaul the entire district, school officials said the idea is about more than just closing schools. Meanwhile, city leaders said there’s room to grow to bring more equitable opportunities to students. KUT hosted the show during Morning Edition to try to answer questions parents and community members have posed since the proposal was released Sept. 5. What follows are some highlights from the discussion, lightly edited for clarity.

What criteria were used to choose which schools to close?

“Enrollment is what we hear as the data point that could be used. … But we made a commitment to our community that that wasn’t going to be the case, and I believe that this package reflects that. When you think about the types of information that we have, that went into this, we looked at the types of programming available within elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. We looked at performance of principals and teachers, we looked at the facilities, we looked at supporting students and putting them in modernized facilities. So, all of these things came together to develop informed scenarios.”

– Matias Segura, AISD operations director

Many critics of the plan say it focuses more on renovating consolidated schools rather than putting in district-wide changes to make sure students do well academically.

“I feel like the School Changes document, as it currently is, focuses mostly on places. What I really want to see is more on our programs – not necessary the thematic programs (like fine arts or STEM), but really the basic building blocks that would ensure we would have an equitable education for all of our kids. For example, is math taught the same way in Govalle Elementary, which is an East Austin school serving mostly low-income students, with the same rigor as you would see it taught at Casis Elementary, which is in West Austin and has largely higher-income students?”

Arati Singh, at-large school board member

The district announced that this concern is already being addressed in the next draft of this proposal.

“We heard so clearly that while programs are amazing, what really, really matters is very strong core curriculum and great teaching for all students, so those sort of rigorous AP classes or college preparatory classes. How are we seeing that in every classroom and how does that feed down into our elementary schools? We’re attending to that very common, strong curriculum and instruction that will prepare all our students for success. You’ll see more of that in version two.”

Lisa Goodnow, associate superintendent for academics and social emotional learning

The district has said it wants to use this plan as a way to help schools that have typically been ignored in the past, mostly schools with a lot of low-income students or schools in East Austin. After the proposal’s release, some people said this didn’t go far enough to address historical inequities in schools.

“I think the challenge is, how far is enough? Because what we’re really dealing with is we have some schools that are underserved, but the thing that we don’t say is we have some schools that are overserved. And so how do we deal with the reallocation of resources to schools that have been underserved for generations? But the school district isn’t solely responsible for this. This is an investment of the entire community of really trying to make sure our schools are performing well in every part of our community.”

Kazique Prince, senior policy and education coordinator for Austin Mayor Steve Adler and chairman of the East Austin Coalition for Quality Education

“I think if we’re going to talk about anti-racism then we need to talk about comprehensive allyship. Everybody needs to be saying the words, because that means we are actually accomplishing the goal of getting everybody to make it a priority.”

Natasha Harper-Madison, Austin City Council District 1 representative

The school district will begin a series of 19 meetings Monday to engage with specific school communities about its plan.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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