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What's happening in Austin schools in 2013-2014? Superintendent Meria Carstarphen shares her insights about how "The Power of Us" is transforming education in Austin. This Power is the commitment of educators, parents, students, and the entire community to support quality teaching and learning and to achieve success for every student. It's shared accountability for our successes and challenges. Check back regularly for the latest news.

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    Earlier this week, I joined UT Athletic Directors DeLoss Dodds and Chris Plonsky to formally announce an exciting new initiative created in partnership with UT and AISD.

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    DeLoss Dodds (left) and Chris Plonsky join me in celebrating our new attendance initiative.
    The initiative is designed to recognize our staff members for excellence in attendance, and to foster and promote healthy living for all AISD team members—whether through offering discounted exercise programs, suggesting healthy eating tips or just creating a support network that encourages good health.

    Our local media was out in full force and asked great questions about the new program we created based on your recommendation that we increase opportunities to reward excellence across the district. And, Coach Mack Brown surprised me, stopping by to congratulate us!

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    Coach Brown and me.
    But the real fun is happening tonight, Sept. 14, during the program’s kickoff celebration at Mike A. Myers Stadium and Soccer Field, where the Texas Longhorns Women’s Soccer team will take on Fresno State!

    All AISD team members and their families are invited to join us, enjoy a great game and celebrate this exciting new program!

    To attend, simply redeem your sports voucher at www.texassports.com. If you haven’t already received your voucher to attend the event, please call the Office of Educator Quality at 414-9834.

    Tonight’s game will be the first of many opportunities for AISD staff members and their families to celebrate the new program.

    Every month, AISD employees will receive sports vouchers for perfect attendance and for meeting campus student attendance targets. Each voucher is good for two tickets. Among the highlights, UT will provide:
    • 12,000 vouchers for soccer
    • 370 for volleyball
    • 1,480 for men’s basketball and women’s basketball
    • 1,110 for baseball and softball
    Remember, the program is not just about showing up. If AISD team members are sick, need personal leave, etc., we strongly encourage you to rest, get healthy and stay home.

    We already have made great strides during the past year to create a healthier culture within AISD—both physically and mentally—and we will continue to build on those efforts through this new program.

    I hope to see you tonight! And to borrow a line from our partners, "Be Healthy. Be Here. Be Hooked!"

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    I’ve had the opportunity to do some pretty cool things as superintendent of Austin schools, but not every day is as exciting as the morning I spent at Barton Hills Elementary celebrating the implementation of the Fuel Up to Play 60 Active Play Areas on 80 elementary campuses across the district.

    The Active Play Areas are made possible by a $320,000 grant from Dairy MAX. Thanks to their contribution, the play areas of every Austin ISD elementary campus will undergo a mini makeover—students and community volunteers will use stencils and sidewalk paint to create engaging art on the playscapes that encourage students to combine physical activity with learning about healthy nutrition. More than 1,500 AISD volunteers have participated in implementing the program, which aims to keep our kids happy and healthy.

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    Bright sidewalk art made with stencils, like the one created last spring at Blanton Elementary, will be installed across all 80 AISD elementary campuses.

    Our parents, teachers and community volunteers weren’t the only folks who were energized about this program. Joining me at the Friday celebration of the program were Texas State Rep. Mark Strama, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, former NFL players Dan Neil and Austin High School athletics director Mike Rosenthal, USDA undersecretary Kevin Concannon, and UT professor Andrew Springer, whose public health research found the supporting evidence that made this implementation possible.

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    Former NFL player Dan Neil cheers on students participating in an athletic competition where they must quickly complete the tasks written on stars on the floor.

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    Former NFL player and current Austin High School athletics director Mike Rosenthal teaches students about the importance of making good choices when it comes to nutrition.

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    Raising our milk glasses for a toast to good health! (From left to right: RunTex owner Paul Carrozza, Texas State Representative Mark Strama, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, Austin ISD Associate Superintendent of Academics Suzanne Burke, District Supervisor of Physical Education Michele Rusnak, Dairy MAX representative Lisa Losasso, District Director of Nutrition and Food Services Chris Carrillo-Spano, USDA undersecretary Kevin Concannon and UT Professor Andrew Springer)

    It was a lofty crowd who joined me at Barton Hills Elementary, but none of the speakers were quite as energized as our students who showed off their willingness to be active and present in their schools, thanks to programs like Fuel Up to Play 60. The Austin High School drumline and cheerleaders put on an engaging performance that had everyone in the room—from the very old to the very young—stomping their feet, and more than 450 Barton Hills students participated in a flashmob performance to the popular song “Firework.” (I love that song, and the Akins High School band really knows how to play it!) The energy was igniting.

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    The Austin High School Cheerleaders and Barton Hills Principal Kati Achtermann demonstrate one of many ways students can get on their feet and be active.

    One of the district’s strategic goals is to ensure every student has access to health-related programming. This partnership with Dairy MAX and Fuel Up to Play 60 enables the district to do just that.

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    Teamwork makes the dream work! Members of my team who came out on Friday include (from right) Oscar Palomo and his wife, Mary, Mel Waxler and Rosa Palacios

    I had a blast Friday night at the kickoff event for the AISD Attendance Incentive Program, in partnership with UT. The initiative is designed to recognize our staff members for excellence in attendance, and to foster and promote healthy living for all AISD team members.

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    Between the attendance initiative and the performance of the Lady Longhorns,
    these cheerleaders had lots to be peppy about!

    The Lady Longhorns did their part to make this an exciting launch — they scored within seconds of the kickoff and held on for a comfortable 3-0 win against Fresno State. These women can really play — I wouldn't be surprised to see a few of them on the Olympic soccer team in Rio four years from now.

    Despite all the rain earlier in the day, I saw plenty of familiar faces at Myers Stadium, and I also had a chance to meet some of our teachers and students who came out to support the new program. Brad Bell, who teaches pre-K at Travis Heights, was there with his son Spencer, a 6th grader in the Kealing Magnet Program. Spencer brought his buddy Henry, another 6th grader who attends (where else?) O. Henry Middle School. They both love soccer and hope to play in college, just like the talented young ladies on the field.
    
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    Spencer (far right) and Henry mug for the jumbotron during halftime,
    along with Kimiko Cartwright, executive director for educator quality, and me (far left)!

    Don't forget, Friday night was only the beginning of this exciting program. Every month, AISD employees will receive sports vouchers for perfect attendance and for meeting campus student attendance targets. Each voucher is good for two tickets to a variety of sporting events, including soccer, volleyball, baseball, softball and men's and women's basketball.

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    These guys were hilarious, talking (good-natured)
    trash to the refs and the Fresno State players all night long!

    What a great way to wind down after a long week! I know I'm hooked, and I hope to see you at the next game!

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  • 09/20/12--14:12: The Bands March On!
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    The Eastside Memorial Show Stoppers Before the Show!
    On a cool fall evening, the moon shone bright over our students and families at the 40th Annual AISD Band Jamboree at Burger Stadium. There were spectacular performances by each of our high school band programs, and the audience was terrific in showing its support for every program and performance. The AISD Band Jamboree is one of the high points of the fall in the district, and we appreciate all of our staff, students and families for making it such a success. Great job everyone!
    
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    The McCallum Color Guard and sponsor Jeff Rudy came ready to perform!
    
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    The Akins High School Band filled the field.
    
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    Lanier percussionists hard at work. Beautiful!
    
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    Eastside Memorial students were full of energy.
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    Good vibes from the Reagan band members.
    
    
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    Austin High students prepare for their performance.
    
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    The Anderson marching band stands at the ready.
    


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    Becker parent Ileana Abounader and her son Logan
    celebrate the good news about the Give with Target award.
    Bravo to Principal LaKesha Drinks and the entire Becker Elementary community for earning a $25,000 grant from the Target corporation as part of its Give with Target initiative! Becker Elementary is one of only 100 schools across the country to receive this grant, and the only school in Central Texas to be so honored.

    Becker parents, students and staff celebrated the good news Sept. 12 during Back to School Night. Representatives from Austin and San Antonio-area Target stores were on hand for the presentation, and everyone celebrated with cake at the end of the event. Check out the picture below isn't that the most creative and adorable cake you've ever seen? 

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    This spectacular cake, created by Becker parent Kristy Anderson-Ewing, truly rose to the occasion!

    The funds will allow the school to update its technology to enhance classroom instruction. For example, each classroom will receive at least one iPad, as suggested by some of the fifth graders who submitted letters to Principal Drinks on the subject. The library will also receive resources to facilitate cooperative learning in bilingual pairs of students.

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    Becker families celebrated the award by shaking pom poms
    made from recycled Target bags. What a creative and environmentally responsible bunch!

    Since the addition of a two-way, dual-language program two years ago, enrollment at Becker has grown from 194 students in 2009-10 to 316 students today. In light of this rapid growth, Becker can use the funds to expand dual-language and other student enrichment programs, such as green, gardening projects.

    Once again, congratulations to all the students, parents, teachers and staff at Becker, and thanks to the Target corporation for supporting great Austin schools!

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    Last week, I attended a fun event for a great cause the VIP Launch Party for the 6th Annual Dancing with the Stars Austin fundraiser to benefit the Center for Child Protection. This wonderful organization works to help children through the trauma that results from the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases.

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    My fellow dancers and I appear in the back row, with the Center for Child Protection organizers in front.
    This event is structured much like the popular TV show, featuring local community members paired with professional dancers to compete in a dance-off for the coveted mirror ball trophy. But, most important, we'll be dancing to raise money and provide vital services for local children affected by child abuse, including pet therapy, an interactive ropes course and psychiatric services.

    Notable community figures who will be cutting a rug with me for charity include:
    • Carol Adams, president of Animal Trustees of Austin;
    • Clayton Aynesworth, founder of Alternative Healing of Austin;
    • David Garza, personal trainer for Camp Gladiator Arena;
    • Wendy Harvey, development specialist for The Arbor;
    • Ginny Jones, mother, philanthropist and community volunteer;
    • Andra Liemandt, drummer for The Cover Girls;
    • Tanuj Nakra, cosmetic surgeon at Texas Oculoplastic Consultants;
    • Graydon Parrish, artist, art historian and color theorist; and
    • Alex Winkelman, executive director of Citizen Generation.
    The judges this year include Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo (who participated as a dancer at each of the last two events), State Sen. Kirk Watson and, of course, local KLBJ radio personality Ed Clements, who has been a fixture on the judges' panel in recent years.

    The dancers and Center for Child Protection organizers are pictured above. Below, you can see me at the event with my dance instructor, Rowdy. He's very serious about teaching me how to dance with my two left feet!
    
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    This is my dance instructor, Rowdy. We're going to raise a bunch of money,
    along with the coveted mirror ball trophy!
    The big event, presented by Lexus of Austin, will take place Dec. 2 at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Please visit the Center for Child Protection's website to see YouTube footage from last year's event and to learn more about this worthy cause. Hope to see you there!

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    The Andy Roddick Foundation has announced that once again this year, Austin Partners in Education, or APIE, will be a beneficiary of the fundraising gala that the foundation held this past weekend. Last year, APIE received $100,000 in unrestricted funds to support tutoring and other programs for our students. The funds also were used to establish a "Partner Portal" so that any campus can post its volunteer opportunities on the APIE website. This kind of financial support helps strengthen our schools and our community. We appreciate the support!

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    A set from Grammy-award winning artist John Legend was one of the highlights of the gala.

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    College Prep student Me'Aisha joins me in demonstrating The Power of Us!

    Yesterday, it was my great pleasure to attend the dedication of IDEA Allan, AISD's new in-district charter school dedicated to preparing students for success in college, career and citizenship.

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    The Aguilar family stands by the bur oak planted to dedicate IDEA Allan.

    My afternoon at the Allan campus began with the same warm welcome I remember from my last visit with a firm handshake and eye contact from the Academy and College Prep students greeting guests at the door. Teaching good manners and self-discipline is a core value at IDEA Allan, where character education is woven into every lesson and activity. You can learn more about the culture and climate at IDEA Allan in an earlier post from my tour of the district on the second day of school.
    
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    When you visit IDEA Allan, you can expect a polite, friendly greeting from everyone you meet. Here, students welcome KIPP Austin Public Schools CEO Kathrin Brewer (right) and IDEA Allan PTA Secretary Shannon Demski.

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    Executive Director of IDEA Austin Larkin Tackett (far left) proudly supervises the welcoming party of Academy and College Prep students.

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    Welcome to IDEA Allan!
    
    One of the highlights of the community celebration was a speech written and delivered by College Prep student Me'Aisha, who told us she chose IDEA Allan because she dreams of one day attending Harvard, just like her aunt. She also has her eye on Yale, Princeton and Georgetown. After hearing Me'Aisha speak and visiting with her for some time after the program, I can say with confidence that any of those fine universities would be lucky to have her on campus. Good luck, Me'Aisha with hard work and your great attitude, you can achieve any goal you set for yourself!

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    Me'Aisha, a College Prep student, gave a heartfelt speech about why she chose IDEA Allan.

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    Trustee Sam Guzman (left) played a key role in crafting the district's partnership with IDEA Public Schools. Here, we see him chatting with AISD Community Education Specialist James Salas.

    AISD Trustee Sam Guzman said a few words at the dedication. He modestly downplayed his role in bringing IDEA Public Schools to Austin, focusing instead on what the partnership means to the Eastside community, and the pride he and others feel in what these students have already accomplished and the great achievements that await them in college and beyond.

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    IDEA founder and CEO Tom Torkelson talks about the
    transformational change that's possible when we all work together.

    IDEA founder and CEO Tom Torkelson used an African proverb to illustrate the power of the partnership between his organization and AISD. If you want to go fast, he said, go by yourself; if you want to go far, go together. We do have a long way to go, but this partnership is off to a flying start. As Mr. Torkelson reminded us, when IDEA Allan opened last month, its enrollment was the largest for any charter school in Austin history. The 550 students on campus, including 58 former students who returned to the district just to take advantage of this opportunity, are a testament to the power of the vision we hold in common that every student can graduate on time and complete college.

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    Community leader Pete Montoya was instrumental in helping the Board of Trustees reach a decision about partnering with IDEA public schools. He also has fine taste in vintage cars -- check out that 1929 Model A!

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    IDEA Allan PTA President Brandee Davis (center) enjoys Me'Aisha's moving speech, along with PTA Secretary Shannon Demski and other parents and community supporters.

    I have no doubt this partnership will improve the lives of the children who attend IDEA Allan, while at the same time strengthening the surrounding community and inspiring others to new heights. IDEA and AISD are working together to build something special and unique. This historic partnership supports our Board's commitment to deliver academic programs that prepare all students for college, career and life. It even goes a step further, because IDEA's commitment to students does not end when they finish high school it continues right through college graduation.
    
    I'm so excited to be partnering with an organization that shares the district's goal of ensuring that all students graduate on time and go to college. IDEA provides another option in AISD’s portfolio of choices for families, students and staff. AISD is committed to raising the achievement of all students, and this collaboration will benefit all of our students, whether they attend district or charter public schools.
    
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    The Allan campus is literally full of great ideas -- here are just a couple you'll see walking down the halls.

    I'd like to thank everyone at IDEA Allan for welcoming me back on campus to celebrate this momentous occasion. The sky's the limit with this partnership, and I can't wait to see what we can achieve together!
    
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    Even though less than a month has passed since my last visit on the second day of school, it's always great to see Principal Angie Arismendi and all the staff at IDEA Allan doing such a great job teaching our kids.
    

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    Our students didn't let a few drops--or a lot--dampen their enthusiasm as they ran around the track.
    As serious athletes know, running in the pouring rain can be fun! It sure added some excitement for the dedicated kids and families who turned out on this rainy Saturday morning for the Marathon Kids Kickoff event at UT's Mike E. Myers stadium. This was the launch of a program in which most of our AISD elementary-aged students participate. The goal is to run a whole marathon--26.2 miles--in increments of ¼ to ½ mile at a time over six months.They keep track of their progress by coloring in their Marathon Kids Running Logs©.  They also are challenged to eat 26.2 days a month of 5-a-day fruits and veggies, coloring in their "Fuel Logs." Students will run the finishing mile on Saturday, February 23 at the Toney Burger Center.

    Marathon Kids started in 1996 and is becoming a district tradition. It's a great way for our kids and families to be fit and healthy. I encourage our students to finish their logs between now and February, so that you can run the finishing mile in late February.

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    AISD staffers Michelle Rusnak, Tracy Lunoff and I started the morning off dry and smiling.

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    Event sponsors received flowers from our students.

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    The UT Men's Basketball team helped get our runners motivated.
    A special thanks to all of the UT athletes who ran the opening lap and then cheered our students as they crossed the finish line. They added a lot of excitement and energy to the event and they are great role models for our kids.
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    The UT Lady Longhorsn Basketball Team was ready to run.

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    Before the race, I thanked our PE teachers and families for participating.
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    Brooke Elementary was one of many AISD schools represented.


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    The rain held off until the moment the race started. Then....

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    ....a downpour at the start. Barbara Jordan Elementary students led off the run.

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    Everyone got wet!

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    UT athletes congratulate our students as they cross the finish line.

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    Despite the rain, it was a beautiful morning for a run.

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    I was so glad to join about 750 students and families on this crisp fall morning for the 2012  International Walk to School Day. All over the world, thousands of kids and families walked to school today to show support for getting healthy exercise by walking safe routes to school.

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    These Govalle Elementary students led this year's Walk To School Day.

    I want to encourage our AISD students to walk to school as often as they can. It’s a great way to start the day and to get exercise. And the healthier our students are, the more prepared they will be to learn.

    Encouraging exercise for students and their parents, while also promoting child pedestrian safety, is a top priority for our district. AISD elementary students focus on eight wellness concepts each school year, including nutrition, cardiovascular health, stress management, and others.

    We are delighted to have Safe Kids Austin as a partner for the 12th year in a row!

    I want to thank all of the police officers and other volunteers who helped make sure we get to Govalle Elementary safely. It was a great way to start the day!

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    Community leaders, Govalle Principal Nancy Maniscalco and I walked, too.

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    City of Austin Police escorts made sure we were safe from traffic.

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    Helping spread the word.

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    Adrian starting the walk....

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    There were safely-helmeted bike riders, too.



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    Three students started carrying this sign....

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    ...But only one was left by the end of the walk. Where are the other girls?

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    Adrian made it!

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    About 750 students and families completed the walk to school.

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    We were there to greet them.

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    Thanks to these volunteers from FedEx, Dell Childrens Hospital, the City of Austin and Safe Kids Austin for helping make this year's Walk to School a success!


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    The Texas Comptroller’s Office has announced that three AISD elementary schools--Wooldridge, Hill and Baranoff--are 2012 Texas Honors Circle designees. They are among 329 campuses in Texas to earn one of the two highest ratings on the Comptroller’s 2012 Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST) Report. The campuses were recognized for making academic progress while spending less than other comparable campuses. The schools were measured against 40 other similar campuses throughout the state.  

    Congratulations to the principals and staff at these three outstanding AISD elementary schools. You're setting a high standard for all of us to follow!

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    It was my honor Saturday to attend the dedication of the Oak Springs library for Austin's beloved Willie Mae "Ankie" Kirk, an outstanding educator, civil rights activist, Library Commissioner, grandmother, and philanthropist. In recognition of her decades of service to the community, the Austin City Council passed an ordinance Feb 12, 2012, officially renaming the Oak Springs Branch Library the Willie Mae Kirk Branch Library.

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    Mrs. Kirk has spent her entire life making Austin a better place. She was active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, protesting segregation in schools, at department store lunch counters and even at Barton Springs pool, where African Americans — including her own children — were once forbidden from swimming.

    In 1971, Austin Mayor Jeffrey Friedman appointed Mrs. Kirk to the Library Commission, where she served for 12 years. In that time, she worked tirelessly to improve library facilities all over Austin, including the George Washington Carver Branch, which received major renovations during her tenure.


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    Willie Mae Kirk has touched many lives over the years, which is reflected by the
    crowd that assembled to honor the renaming of the Oaks Springs library for her.

    There was a fine crowd on hand to honor Mrs. Kirk, including Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who gave the opening address. He was accompanied by Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, Austin City Council member Mike Martinez, and former mayor Gus Garcia.

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    The dedication ceremony for the Willie Mae Kirk Branch Library included
    an honor guard of Buffalo Soldiers.
    Other dignitaries in attendance included State Sen. Kirk Watson and two of Mrs. Kirk's distinguished children — former planning commissioner Saundra Kirk and former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, who currently serves as U.S. Trade Representative under President Obama.

    Congratulations, Mrs. Kirk, and thank you for all have done and continue to do for the children and families of Austin!

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    On Tuesday, my Student Advisory Committee met for the first time this school year. The committee is composed of one representative from each middle school and high school in the district, plus a few ex-officio members and other invited students. There are 41 students on the committee, including 18 new members and 23 returning members.

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    Here are some of the 41 students who serve on the Student Advisory Committee.
    First on the agenda, the committee discussed an important date coming up on the district's calendarthe Austin ISD State of the District Showcase, Tuesday, Nov. 13 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Toney Burger Stadium. The Student Advisory Committee will play a major role in publicizing this event, which will bring together our families and community to strengthen support for all of our students, staff members and schools. The showcase will celebrate our district's outstanding programs in academics, athletics and the arts, featuring marching bands, dance teams, color guards and a host of other performances and exhibits that spotlight what we can accomplish when we work as a team!

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    Save the date for Nov. 13!
    The committee helped me plan some of the elements of the showcase, including appearing in a video for the flash mob portion of the evening. They also took flyers promoting the showcase back to their home campuses to get the word out to fellow students, parents and families. I hope to see everyone at Burger Stadium on Nov. 13believe me, you won't want to miss it!

    October is National Bullying Prevention Month, so committee members will promote the objectives of the No Place for Hate campaign on their campuses. The students signed the No Place for Hate pledge and read it aloud, promising to "combat prejudice and ... stop those who ... would hurt anyone or violate their civil rights." Our goal is to be designated as a No Place for Hate school district by the 2014-15 school year. To reach this goal, every campus and office must achieve its own designation by participating in No Place for Hate activities.

    The next step for committee members is to circulate the pledge at their home campuses and inspire at least five other students per school to sign. The committee member who returns to the next meeting with the most signatures will win a prize! 

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    These three students have served on the committee in each of the three years it has existed.
    It has been great getting to know all the students on this committee, some of whom were part of the original committee that I first formed three years ago when I became superintendent. I'd like to thank all the committee membersthey are wonderful ambassadors for their schools, and the district as a whole. I look forward to seeing them again at the next Student Advisory Committee meeting on Jan. 8, 2013.

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    Proud parents of the committee members wait patiently outside the AISD Board Room during the meeting.

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    Friday was a memorable day for two of our northside elementary schools, as Hill Elementary welcomed students and parents from Graham Elementary, along with Principal Blaine Helwig, to a special assembly recognizing Graham's status as a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School.

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    Graham Elementary Principal Blaine Helwig, accompanied by students from both schools, thanks Hill Elementary for recognizing his school as a 2012 National Blue Ribbon award winner.

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    Principal Helwig and Graham Elementary Asst. Principal Chao Lin Chang proudly display their new Blue Ribbon School banner, which was a gift from their sister school, Hill Elementary.

    The celebration began in the Hill cafeteria following the arrival of about 20 fourth- and fifth-graders from Graham, along with their parents and Principal Helwig. The remaining students were able to watch the event via Skype back at Graham. Following a song by the host school's choir, Hill Elementary Principal Beth Ellis congratulated Graham's students, teachers and staff members for their hard work and dedication to excellence. Hill students presented their counterparts at Graham with wristbands commemorating the event, as well as a large banner proclaiming Graham Elementary a National Blue Ribbon School.

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    The Hill Elementary choir opens the celebration with a song.

    Upon receiving a plaque from Principal Ellis to mark the occasion, Principal Helwig thanked the Hill community for its kindness and hospitality. As sister schools, he said, Graham and Hill have worked together on many projects over the years, including book drives and holiday fundraisers. And now these schools have even more in common, as two of only six Blue Ribbon schools in the entire Austin school district.

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    Dash, Hill Elementary's armadillo mascot, gets ready for his close-up with Fred Cantu from KEYE News.

    Fred Cantu and a camera crew from KEYE News were on hand to broadcast this momentous event, which made Friday's evening news. You can watch the story here.

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    Hill Elementary Principal Beth Ellis joins Principal Helwig at a reception in the
    Hill library following the celebration.

    Congratulations to Graham Elementary for receiving this prestigious award, and hats off to Hill Elementary for recognizing and supporting the achievements of their neighbors to the east. This is what I mean when I say "Teamwork Makes the Dream Work!"

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    This week, Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, a noted author and lecturer, gave these four presentations about challenges and issues facing African American boys in particular, and, in general, how to close the racial achievement gap:

    "Over-Representation of African American and Hispanic Males in Special Education
     (Special Education, Bilingual, and Central Office Staff)

    "Male Single Gender Classes/Schools and Eliminating the Achievement Gap
    (School For Young Men/Pearce/Garcia Planning Teams, Cabinet Members, and Trustees)

    "Understanding Black/Hispanic Male Learning Styles and Strategies for Raising Teacher Expectations"
    (Teachers, Principals, Administrators)

    "Closing the Racial Academic Achievement Gap and Developing Students to Become Self-Disciplined"
    (AISD Community)

    Dr. Kunjufu had powerful messages for educators, administrators, trustees and families about the learning styles of young African American and Hispanic males, and he offered strategies for addressing these different learning styles.
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    At a community meeting at LBJ High School on Tuesday, October 16, Dr. Kunjufu stressed to parents the importance of peer pressure and cultural influences on today's youth. He encouraged parents to get to know their child's friends, and to support academic achievement as an important goal.

    Thanks, Dr. Kunjufu, for visiting AISD and sharing your insights with us!


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  • 10/24/12--14:30: An UpClose Look at AISD
  • This week, I welcomed this year’s seventh AISD UpClose class at an orientation luncheon. Once a month, this committed group of community members meets to get an inside look at  how AISD operates, and to find out "from the inside" the challenges and opportunities before us as a district, and to participate in service projects.

    Every month, AISD UpClose members hear from a leader of key areas of district operations, including facilities, budget, and academics. This month's topic was the role of the Board of Trustees and Superintendent.

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    Board President Mark Williams and Vice President Vince Torres offered informative perspectives about the responsibilities of serving on the Board of Trustees.

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    I described my work as superintendent, then all three of us responded to questions from members of the UpClose class.We are so grateful to these UpClose class members for their interest and enthusiasm as we begin the new school year.
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    On Monday, the Board of Trustees extended the term of my employment contract by one year, to June 30, 2015. I want to let you know how much I appreciate the support from the Board, the AISD staff and the Austin community. It’s a privilege to be on a team with educators who are champions for all of our children. I look forward to continuing our work together.


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  • 10/26/12--11:03: Any Given Child Takes Off!
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    Classical Guitar students performed at the reception.

    On Wednesday, Oct. 24, I joined Darrell Ayers, Vice President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Mayor Lee Leffingwell and AISD Trustees Williams, Torres, Moya and Bradley at the launch of the Any Given Child Initiative.

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    Joining me at the launch were (from left) Mayor Leffingwell, Jim Ritts, Brent Hasty, Darrell Ayers, and Trustee Williams.

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    Dr. Brent Hasty and AISD Trustee Vincent Torres.


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    Dr. Hasty, and AISD Trustees Lori Moya and Cheryl Bradley.

    This an unprecedented partnership in arts education among community arts organizations, AISD  and the City of Austin. It is designed to provide all AISD students with the opportunity to attend arts-rich schools and to ensure every child benefits from learning in a creative classroom. The Any Given Child launch event took place at the Stateside Paramount Theatre.

    Dr. Brent Hasty, Executive Director of MINDPop, summarized the findings of a year-long study of the arts programming in Austin. The study was funded by the Kennedy Center for the Arts and conducted by a diverse group of arts educators, representatives of nonprofit organizations, and staff from AISD and the City of Austin. The year-long review found that strengthening arts education and creative learning for all students is vitally important to maintaining Austin's strong creative community and economy. The creative sector generates more than $4.35 billion in economic activity, more than $71 million in city tax revenues and almost 49,000 jobs.

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    Jonah Kai Steiner, Zoe Westbrook, Janessa Castillo, and Jack Feger performed a shadow box play.

    I was so proud of our students and staff, who really put on a great show. Supporters of the arts were treated to a shadow-box performance by four students in Ms. Sloan McLain’s second grade class at Brentwood Elementary. Their creative performance of a fairy tale illustrated how the arts are used in social studies and language arts instruction.

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    There were performances by the Bedichek Middle School Mariachi Band...

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    and a performance from “Mariachi Girl,”a co-production of Teatro Vivo and ZACH Theatre in partnership with the University of Texas at Austin's Department of Theatre and Dance.

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    Last night, I had the pleasure of having dinner at the President's Office at The University of Texas with members of the Kennedy Center's National Committee for the Performing Arts. The Committee is meeting in Austin, and conducting site visits as part of the Any Given Child funding initiative. Thanks to UT-Austin President Bill Powers for hosting the dinner and for allowing us to enjoy the spectacular views from the terrace.

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    Then, this morning, Highland Park and Brentwood Elementary schools hosted a tour to give our visitors a close-up look at the arts in education in AISD schools. At Highland Park, the hallways were lined with displays of how teachers are incorporating their new creative teaching strategies into instruction.

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    Since it's close to Halloween, the Highland Park Elementary library featured some amazing pumpkin creations. Kudos to Highland Park librarian Cheryl Mullins for bringing together such an impressive display.

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    On our next stop, Brentwood Elementary teachers performed a short play to illustrate how dramatic arts support classroom activities.

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    These two school visits highlighted arts integration strategies in the classroom and how teacher professional development in the arts supports learning.

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    Following the tour, a panel of principals, district leaders, community arts partners, and philanthropic and business leaders talked about the impact of creative learning in Austin generally, and of the Any Given Child initiative in particular.These are some of the highlights of my remarks to the committee:
    As superintendent, I have been committed to expanding opportunities in the arts for all students, even in the face of significant budget cuts last year. The fine arts are front and center of our facilities planning this year.

    In AISD, we believe the arts are important for students. The research is clear: students with access to rigorous, creative learning opportunities experience higher levels of motivation; attendance at school; increased cognitive functioning; and increased pro-social behaviors like empathy and community involvement; and higher levels of academic achievement and college attainment long-term. In fact, students who attend arts-rich schools are more than twice as likely to attend college than similar students who attend arts-poor schools.

    Developing creative learning opportunities for our community is key to Austin’s future economic and cultural vitality. Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World, a growing center for digital media and gaming, and home to world-class arts organizations across all disciplines. Arts education for our youngest citizens is vitally important to maintaining our strong creative economy into the future. 

    We’ve had some great successes in arts in education so far, but we need to do more. In the past year, we have piloted the Creative Classroom initiative in 6 campuses in the McCallum vertical team, providing professional development for arts integration in the classroom. Schools report increased attendance and retention rates, citing the arts as a key factor. Although we began in only six schools in the McCallum vertical team, results have been so exciting the principals lobbied to become part of the project. A local donor has been so impressed by the initial Any Given Child work that they established the Austin Creative Classroom Fund and dedicated $1,000,000 in direct grants for schools. 

    In the Any Given Child audit that was conducted over the past year, we found that students have strong foundations in the sequential fine arts, with some gaps in student access to a diversity of art forms, cultural heritage, and depths of experience, especially at the middle school level. The audit also found an opportunity to impact student learning through arts-based instruction across the curriculum. Almost all the 108 Principals surveyed  (91.3%) suggested the arts have a great deal of value in child development and most recognize the value of the arts for engaging is engaged students (97.1%) and encouraging parental involvement (94.1%).  These statistics held true in similar proportions for the 1,553 general classroom teachers we surveyed. 92.3% of general classroom teachers expressed an interest in receiving Professional Development in one or more art form.

    The Any Given Child plan recommends that
    ·         We maintain and increase the strength of the Sequential Fine Arts , where students have access to a diversity of art forms (disciplines, e. g. dance, theatre, visual arts, music, and media); access to diverse cultural heritages; and diversity of kinds of experiences (e. g. students going as an audience; having the opportunity to create art).
    ·         Teachers become skilled in arts-based strategies that allow kids to build a deeper understanding.  Teachers can use arts experiences in strategic ways to help students link prior knowledge with new information to deepen insights and understanding (durability of learning; persistence).
    ·         Kids and families have stronger connections to neighborhood and community arts resources, community arts partners and cultural centers and libraries.

    The Any Given Child Initiative will:
    ·         Ensure that all students have access to quality, diverse creative learning opportunities to increase student engagement;
    ·         Build classroom teachers’ skills in using high yield arts-based strategies across the curriculum to increase student achievement;
    ·         Align community and neighborhood resources and partnerships to effectively increase the schools capacity to meet the particular needs of their community; and
    ·         Support existing fine arts programs and staff.

    On behalf of the Austin Independent School District and our Any Given Child partners, I want to thank the Kennedy Center for their support of our community and our kids. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

    P.S. There were so many beautiful pumpkins on display...I wanted to share my photos with you!

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    Students in the Dawson library can't wait for author Tad Hills to read
    from his latest book, "Rocket Writes a Story."
    Last Friday, Dawson Elementary hosted three authors to read and speak to students about their work through a grant from the Texas Book Festival's Reading Rock Stars program. This is the third year of the program, which aims to promote literacy by bringing authors to Dawson and other elementary schools in AISD and across Texas. As part of the grant, each student receives a signed, hardcover book from the author at the end of the presentation.
    
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    Sylvia Mendez, from the book "Sylvia & Aki," takes questions from Dawson fifth graders.
    Dawson's fifth graders were treated to a presentation by Winifred Conkling, author of "Sylvia & Aki," which won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award. Also on hand was Sylvia Mendez, one of the women who inspired the story.

    While she was in grade school in California during the Second World War, Ms. Mendez was denied admission to what was then the "whites-only" 17th Street Elementary in Orange County's Westminster School District. Unhappy with the quality of education and shabby facilities at the school designated for "Mexican" children, Ms. Mendez's father brought suit against the district. This resulted in the landmark 1947 Mendez v. Westminster decision, which led to the desegregation of California's public schools and paved the way for the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling seven years later. In 2011, Ms. Mendez received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in honor of her life's work as an advocate for civil rights and social justice.
    
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    Winifred Conkling author of "Sylvia & Aki," presents a signed copy of her book to a Dawson student.
    As if that weren't material enough for an entire book, "Sylvia & Aki" also tells the story of the injustices suffered by Aki Munemitsu, a Japanese-American girl whose family was forcibly relocated to an internment camp during the war. If you can believe it, the Mendez family leased the Munemitsu family's home during this period, and the two girls became life-long friends.

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    Following the presentation, Principal Shannon Sellstrom chats with her fascinating guest,
    Sylvia Mendez from the book "Sylvia and Aki."
    As you can imagine, the audience had lots of questions for Ms. Mendez after her presentation. The students had read the book in advance, and had also researched World War II and the history of segregation in American schools. It was astonishing to many that such things had occurred in living memory, and hearing from someone who had witnessed—and made—so much history was an unforgettable experience. Ms. Mendez concluded her time at Dawson by advising the fifth graders to "Stay in school, go to college and have a wonderful life!"

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    Dawson Librarian Debbie Shaffer introduces author Tad Hills to an eager group of first graders.
    Down the hall in the Dawson library, author and illustrator Tad Hills presented "Rocket Writes a Story" to a group of first graders, who clearly are big fans of this popular series of children's books. Mr. Hills read from his latest story and demonstrated some of his painting techniques, including how to make fluffy feathers on a duck who features prominently in the story.

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    Tad Hills shows a library full of students how he paint a duck
    from his new book "Rocket Writes a Story."
    Liz Garton Scanlon was the third author to visit Dawson on Friday. As the mother of two girls who attend the Kealing Magnet Program, Ms. Scanlon has lots of experience writing for, and interacting with, young children. She spoke to pre-K students about the writing process, including how she uses the world around us and her own imagination as sources of ideas.

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    Author Liz Garton Scanlon displays a copy of her latest book, "Think Big."
    Ms. Scanlon also talked about the different kinds of art that inspired her latest book, "Think Big," including dancing, painting, building and even cooking. Finally, she discussed the teamwork involved in writing a book. "My editor is like your teachers," she said in explaining the many steps involved in getting her books ready for publication. She also gave credit to the illustrator who helps bring her stories to life. Yet another great example of how Teamwork Makes the Dream Work at AISD!

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    Liz Garton Scanlon pesents a signed copy of her latest book to a Dawson pre-K student.

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