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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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      Travis Heights Elementary School is the district’s first campus-initiated in-district charter school, which means there are exciting changes this year for the school's curriculum, program design, budget allocation, scheduling, professional development and more.

    One new change is its emphasis on Service Learning Programs--programs that emphasize how to learn, serve and lead. As part of this focus, students are encouraged to do research and determine real things they can do to make a difference in their community. This year at Travis Heights, students are focused on good citizenship. That means brainstorming the characteristics that make an ideal student or citizen, selecting one trait they think is most important, and striving to achieve that throughout the year.

    I got to sit in on a class of 5th graders who were helping their kindergarten counterparts with an activity that supports this idea. It was uplifting to see the students share with one another the things they have internalized as being contributors to a better society.

    I also got to watch fourth grade students engaged in an inner circle activity. Students chose a character trait that embodies how they want to behave and act: patience, determination, forgiveness, etc., and shared with one another the words they chose to focus on and why those things were important to them. Again, it was remarkable to see students making observations and decisions that would have the effect of improving the school experience for their peers, their teachers and themselves.

    I’m proud of the work that Principal Lisa Robertson is doing with her staff, and of course I am proud of the kids who made the end of the tour truly memorable. 

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    Before I go to bed tonight, I am mindful that today is Lyndon Baines Johnson’s birthday. LBJ inspires me because he was an education-focused, civil rights champion. Over Memorial Day weekend, I took my parents out to LBJ State Park and toured his hometown and the park to learn more about his legacy. My parents still live in Selma, Alabama, where I grew up–a city that is still immersed in civil rights struggles. I remember that every day as I take responsibility for addressing inequalities in education here in Austin.

    LBJ’s legacy looms large in Austin—and AISD. As educators, we are fortunate to serve Austin, which is a city of ideas—a city of innovators.  Austin has world-class universities, innovative businesses and engaged civic leaders, including an army of the “doers and builders” LBJ said would “take up the front line” to ensure progress. I have seen it personally every day over the past four years from our teachers and staff members who have worked tirelessly to address long-standing issues that have plagued our school system for decades. The issues are tied to a beleaguered history of race-based struggles for longer than I have been alive.

    And, yet, I am inspired and have hope for the future of all our students. For the past 48 hours, I have been visiting with team members at 16 campuses throughout Austin. And, I know one thing: Our work is working. AISD has the “doers and builders” who are taking “up the front line” to ensure progress.

    For example, AISD’s graduation rate is at an all-time high: 82.5 percent in 2012, up from its lowest at 74.3 percent in 2008. And, gains in graduation ratesfor students who have typically had lower graduation rates are even more impressive. When viewed over a four-year period, you can see increases like 7.1 percentage points for Special Education students, 13.9 percentage points for African Americans, 14.7 percentage points for Hispanic students—and English Language Learners closed the gap by a whopping 27.6 percentage points. I applaud the tremendous progress our students, teachers, support staff, principals and other administrators have made.

    This is an amazing achievement we should celebrate. Austin’s demographics are changing—and we must do everything we can to help every student—especially our most vulnerable students. In AISD, we have been planting seeds and growing graduation rates that will continue to pay off over time.

    Headlines simply can never tell the whole story. So while there is always work to be done, the achievements from our work may not always be made clear. Please speak to your principal or teacher if you have any questions about your school. You can always email me directly at superintendent@austinisd.orgor call my office at 512-414-2416.

    But, in honor of LBJ’s birthday, I am reminded about his clear-headed understanding of the press’ role in covering administrations. LBJ said, “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim.'

    Here in Austin, with Lady Bird Lake just a stone’s throw away, I know we have team members across the district who not only will walk on water but they will swim, dive, snorkel, fish, water ski, sail or boogie board, if they have to, to get one more child graduated.

    At AISD, we are committed to looking past the headline to focus on the bottom line: our students’ success— today and in the future. After all, we have LBJ’s army of “doers and builders” who “take up the front line” every day to ensure progress. Like LBJ, we can all take responsibility for correcting many past wrongs by focusing on our strengths and moving forward for the future: “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose. I am resolved to win the tomorrows before us.”

    Welcome back and thank you, Austin, for all you do for children and families every day. Blessings and have a great school year!

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    Today is the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered on August 28, 1963 to more than 200,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The speech is considered one of the most powerful of the 20th Century and marked a defining moment in the civil rights movement.

    In seeking equal opportunities for African Americans, Martin Luther King, Jr., ignited movements among women, Hispanics, people with disabilities, and other groups. His calls for equal treatment under the law changed and improved the lives of millions of Americans, not just African Americans. He showed us how to seek change by working within the system, while still challenging injustice.

    Fifty years after Dr. King blazed the trail, we still haven’t reached our destination. Dr. King’s life, his message, and the changes for which he fought so hard still challenge us today.

    In our work in public education, we have a unique opportunity and a particular responsibility for making progress towards realizing Dr. King’s dream of equal access and opportunity for all Americans. Our job is to ensure that every student in AISD receives a quality education, regardless of skin color or zip code.

    We have made progress in recognizing inequalities in AISD. But, as Dr. King knew better than anyone, the process of change can be frustrating and slow. We must not listen to those who say that these changes can wait until next year, or the year after that. Because, every year we wait to make a decision, more students will not graduate, and we will have failed to do our job of preparing all students to take advantage of the opportunities before them.

    When it comes to opening doors and ensuring a high quality education for each and every one of our students, Dr. King's message from 50 ago still resonates today:

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    While I may not have been able to visit all of AISD’s 123 schools, I know that principals around the district were working hard to make the first day of school great for their students, and some of our schools have reached out to me with your stories. Throughout the week I will continue to post them as I have time.

    Take, for instance, the great example set on Monday by students at Anderson High School. Student athletes, cheerleaders and the Anderson Belles were on hand at their feeder schools—Doss, Davis, Hill, Pillow, Summit and Murchison—to help parents and our youngest students find their way through their new school.

    Thank you, Anderson Principal Donna Houser, for working with your students to demonstrate such great leadership for your vertical team! 

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    This week, the district’s newest facility, Janis Guerrero-Thompson Elementary, opened its doors to 561 new Grizzlies and their families. The school, which was built as part of the 2004 Bond Program, has 40 classrooms on about 17 acres at 102 East Rundberg Lane. It was named for Dr. Janis Guerrero-Thompson, a longtime educator whose work in the district included 17 years of service as a teacher and as AISD’s executive director of planning and community relations.

    This afternoon, Principal LaKesha Drinks welcomed me for a tour, which included stops by the cafeteria, gym, and  library. All are clean and welcoming, and custodians and other staff were working to keep them that way. In the cafeteria, students can choose a book to read at breakfast or lunch from baskets of books on the stage. That's a great way to support our district's focus on literacy!

     In the library, I joined story-time in the impressive glassed-in story area, which allows students to hear stories while the rest of the library is quiet.

    Then it was on to Ms. Rangel's fifth grade science classroom, where students were conducting an experiment to measure the absorbency of paper towels. This was the culmination of a week-long lesson that began with reading about scientific inquiry and how to ask questions, then creating a graphic organizer and learning to take notes. Ms. Rangel told me that the experiment is the culmination of the lesson, and students have been looking forward to it all week.

    At a brand new school like this, excitement is mixed with challenges. It's sort of like moving into a new home, says Principal Drinks. The brand new facility has state-of-the-art equipment, and everything is bright and shiny and new. Students and teachers all are getting to know each other, most for the first time. Now that everyone is here, teachers will begin to assess their students, who have come from a number of different schools, and provide the appropriate supports for learning and achievement.

    The first week is drawing to a close, and we're all happy to be back to school. It's going to be a great year!

    Have a safe and happy Labor Day weekend!

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  • 09/04/13--17:17: Miss School, Miss Out!

  • Today, school and community leaders from throughout central Texas gathered to kick off a regional school attendance and awareness campaign —Missing School Matters. Organized by the E3 Alliance, the campaign to improve school attendance. Since September is National Attendance Awareness Month, it’s a good time to be reminding students and families about the importance of being in class every day.

    When students aren’t in class, they have to work doubly hard to catch up with the material that they missed; teachers lose class time helping those students catch up; and that the district loses state funding—about $45 per day—for every day that a student has an unexcused absence.

    AISD launched its own attendance campaign--Every Day Counts--in 2010. Over the past three years, our focus on improving attendance has produced results. Gains have been particularly strong at the high school level. Among all student groups, attendance
    • at the high school level increased from 90.7% in 2010 to 92.5% in 2012
    •  in middle school rose from 94.7% in 2010 to 96% in 2012; and
    • at the elementary level, increased from 96.1% in 2010 to 96.3% in 2012.

    These improvements have generated more than $5 million in additional state funding, which can be invested in the classroom. If every student came to class every day, if we had 100 percent attendance, under the new state finance system our district would receive about $30 million more per year in state funding.

    This month, the district will launch the second year of an attendance campaign for students and staff in partnership with the University of Texas. Schools with improved staff and student attendance will be rewarded with vouchers for staff to attend UT athletic events.

    We will continue to focus on improving attendance by monitoring attendance data for high-need campuses every two weeks, and in some cases, contacting parents. We will also continue efforts to educate staff and parents about state laws and district policies on attendance and the correlation between attendance and improved academic outcomes.

    Regular school attendance is a habit that needs to be developed early in a child’s life, even as early as pre-kindergarten, and reinforced over the years. We can’t wait until students are in high school to educate them about the importance of being in class.

    We’re proud to be part of the regional Missing School Matters campaign to improve student attendance throughout central Texas. Because our whole region will reap the benefits when more of our students and families are aware of the importance of attending school every day.

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  • 09/06/13--13:31: Planning for HB 5 Changes
  • Parents, teachers, community members and administrators gathered at district headquarters yesterday to beginning planning for the implementation of HB 5, the overhaul of accountability requirements that the legislature passed recently. The changes include a new high school graduation plan, and at its meeting yesterday, the HB 5 Policy Planning Committee had a spirited discussion about what the district should recommend as a graduation plan for its students. There will be more meetings and conversations in the months ahead, and I want to thank all who are contributing their time and knowledge to this effort.

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  • 09/06/13--15:41: Safety is our Top Priority
  • As we conclude the second week of school, I wanted to share with you important safety efforts that the district is taking. Safety is our top priority, and we make every effort to ensure that every one of our students is safe, every day.

    Unfortunately, last week, on the second day of school, a pre-K student at Pickle Elementary left the campus unattended during recess, just before lunch. Austin Fire Department staff observed the child a short distance from the school and notified the Austin Police Department, and the student was safely returned to school. Although it was an isolated case, I take this seriously.

    Today, I made a second visit to the school to monitor and evaluate the district's response.

    Immediately after our AISD Police Department summarized what happened, these steps were taken at the school level:

    • The  principal sent a letter home to parents that day informing them of the situation, and that the district immediately started an investigation.
    • The principal and district administrators met with staff to review playground procedures and discuss safety and security protocols.
    • I visited Pickle on Tuesday, Sept. 3 to meet with the principal and tour the school site.
    • After reviewing all the information, I directed our Facilities Department to enclose the entire playground area in question with fencing.  The gate located along the play area perimeter, near the footbridge, will be relocated to the front of the playscape to now face the school.  A second gate with a latch will be installed on the side near the City of Austin restrooms to provide community access to the playscape after school hours. More fencing along the drainage canal has been added to redirect student away from the footbridge. The new fencing and gates will be completed before students return to school on Monday, Sept. 9.
    • The principal and district administrators continued training on playground procedures during the Thursday, Sept. 5 staff meeting. 
    • The district's police department and staff will continue to review the Pickle facilities and safety and security procedures at the school.
    And we didn't limit our review to this one school. At the district level:
    • On Sept. 4, all AISD principals were instructed to review safety procedures with their staffs.
    • Our Office of Facilities is reviewing all elementary playground sites to determine fencing needs district-wide and to identify potential sources of funding for urgent needs.
    • Starting this school year, the AISD Police Department will dedicate six officers to patrol and monitor all  elementary schools in the city during the school day.
    • On Sept. 11, all AISD principals will receive additional training on playground procedures as well as general safety and security protocols to reinforce with staff.  
    • District-wide, we will provide additional professional development for principals that focuses on how to tighten procedures to ensure that all students are accounted for throughout the school day. The Physical Education Department will discuss playground safety procedures that will then be provided to the entire school staff.
      As we begin to implement the 2013 Bond Program, I appreciate that voters approved Proposition 3, which will allow us to enhance safety at every one of our schools. But to fully support safety and security improvements, it will require more resources in the future, since voters did not approve Proposition 2, the promotion of safety and security measures, which included improved police communication systems and replacing video cameras.

      As we move forward, I want to reassure all of our families that we will continue to be vigilant in our efforts to protect every child from harm.

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      To commemorate the tragedy that occurred twelve years ago on September 11, 2001, all AISD students observed a moment of silence during the first class period of the day, and flags flew at half-mast at every school.Schools observed the day in various ways. For example, Hill Elementary held a school-wide assembly led by the boy scout and girl scout troops.  Students read poetry commemorating the events of 9/11 and celebrating the heroes who emerged that day.  Then the scout troops led a flag ceremony.

      As September 11, 2001 is remembered as a sad part of our American history, it is important for our students, many of whom were not yet born in 2001, to learn about the events that took place, and how they changed our country and brought America together in such a powerful way. On that day, whatever differences may have existed between people throughout the country were rendered trivial compared to what we all had in common – our fundamental compassion and concern for the well‐being of others. We experienced briefly what our society might be like if we worked more closely together to solve our problems.

      Today, thousands of people across the country will participate in volunteer activities and other good deeds in observance of 9/11 Day. I encourage all AISD students and families to observe this National Day of Service and Remembrance by intentionally committing good deeds to help others. I can think of no better way to honor the victims of 9/11 than to recreate, in ways large and small, the spirit of caring that binds us as a community and as a nation.

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      As I listen to the events unfolding in Washington, D.C., my condolences go out to the families and loved ones of the victims of today’s tragedy in the Navy Yard. As superintendent, school security and the safety or our students and staff is our top priority. Events like these remind me that we cannot let down our guard. And we will not. Today, however, we mourn with those families who have lost loved ones in the Navy Yard shooting.

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      Our CAC custodial staff is tops! (l-r: Ronnie Trevino, Clarence Walker, Pasqual Torres, Ricky Sykes, Graciela Duran, and Maria Sanchez-Contreres.)
      Every school and office in our district depends on custodians to make sure our classrooms, cafeterias, and other working spaces are clean and bright. We are fortunate to have some of the most hard-working and dedicated custodians on earth. This is Custodian Appreciation Week in AISD, and we are honoring our custodial staff for their contributions to students, schools and families. As I said in this year's Convocation video, we’re a whole system, operating together as a district to be the best for our students and families-- and custodians are our helping hands. AISD wouldn’t survive a day without you.Thanks for all you do!

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      LASA Principal Stacia Creszenci, Ann Richards Principal Jeanne Goka, Crockett Principal Craig Shapiro, and Associate Superintendent for High Schools Edmund Oropez celebrate their awards.
      At todays' Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce State of Education Luncheon, these outstanding AISD schools and educators were recognized with awards:

      Edmund Oropez, 2013 Outstanding District Leader; 

      LASA, for having the highest direct college enrollment rate (second year of receiving the award) and highest FAFSA application rate;

      Ann Richards High School for 100% of seniors submitting the Texas Common Application and for highest student survey submissions; and

      Crockett High School, was recognized for the third year in a row for having 100% of seniors submit Texas application.

      It was so good to see so many business leaders who support public education. Congratulations!

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      Our AISD family continues to support students and staff who were displaced by the storms that  flooded neighborhoods in Southeast Austin on October 31. At last count there were 360 students and 28 staff members who have been severely impacted, lost their homes, or temporarily displaced due to extensive flood damage. One of the school communities hardest hit by the flooding was Perez Elementary. Many displaced families must find alternative housing by today.

      Our sincere thanks to Jeanne and Michael Klein for contributing $50,000, and to the The Tapestry Foundation and Buena Vista Foundation, which have joined efforts to issue a $40,000 matching challenge grant.

      You Can Make a Difference: The time to act is now and we need your help. Two community partners have stepped up in response to this need by issuing a challenge to our Central Texas community. The Tapestry Foundation and the Buena Vista Foundation will match your contribution dollar for dollar. Make a contribution through three easy options:

      1. Online Credit Card Donation
      Visit TAP online donation page at: and enter “AISD Disaster Relief Fund” in the gift purpose field.

      2. Electronic Transfer of Funds to TAP Account with Chase Bank
      Use the account information provided below and email Donna Hagey ( to confirm your donation. Please include your name, gift amount and that you are contributing to the AISD Disaster Relief Fund.

      Account #: 440036168

      3. Check or by Phone
      Make checks payable to: The Austin Project (print “AISD Disaster Relief Fund” somewhere on check)
      Address: 5221 Ledesma Road; Austin, TX 78721
      Phone: Donna Hagey at (512) 414-6825

      About The Austin Project: The Austin Project (TAP) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to ensuring all children have equal opportunities for a healthy childhood, a good education and a bright future. For over 20 years, TAP has worked with community organizations, agencies, neighborhoods and individuals to deliver systems that promote parent and family engagement in our schools and neighborhoods. TAP is an active partner with AISD and the City of Austin in the disaster relief efforts and manages a school-based Family Resource Center at Mendez Middle School, which is located in one of the impacted communities.

      Many thanks to those of you who have already committed your support to help these families and staff members

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      Congratulations to Akins, Anderson, LASA and LBJ High Schools for their success in increasing the number of  low-income students who go right on to college after graduation.

      An article in the Nov. 18 Austin American-Statesman noted that the rate of low-income students going straight to college has increased significantly in Central Texas, and highlighted these four AISD high schools for significant increases:

      Akins: 34% to 45% (+11%)
      Anderson: 32% to 63% (+31%)
      LASA: 60% to 79% (+19%)
      LBJ: 40% to 53% (+13%)

      "In schools posting the greatest gains, district officials and other education leaders attribute much of the progress to counselors who consistently track students’ academic progress, whether they apply for college and if they fill out the financial aid forms," the article stated. I am so proud of our high school teachers and counselors who have contributed to this increase in college attendance.Thank you for doing such an outstanding job for our students who need us the most.

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      Every day, you educate our students’ minds and hearts. Every day, you work hard to nurture their abilities and dreams to ensure that every student is ready for college, career and life. Every day, you are helping Austin’s students prepare for the future today. But, it’s not every day that we take the opportunity to pause, reflect and say thank you. I would like to take that opportunity today.

      As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I am counting my blessings: more than 85,000 students, 12,000 team members and a community that believes in the power of education for all to benefit and strengthen Austin, Texas and our country.

      On behalf of AISD and our students, I thank you.

      Have a blessed and restful Thanksgiving holiday with your family and loved ones.

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      In the aftermath of the recent flooding in southeast Austin, which left more than 350 Austin Independent School District students and more than 25 AISD staff members homeless or temporarily displaced, I am especially thankful during this Thanksgiving holiday to all who stepped forward to help our students and families with volunteer support, financial contributions, and other assistance. Over this Thanksgiving holiday, my thoughts and thanks go to the staff of Perez Elementary School, which was among the most affected by the floods, and to these amazing organizations and individuals:

      • Our school principals, who are to be commended for their excellent management of extremely difficult and challenging circumstances;
      • The Family Resource Center at Mendez Middle School, and AISD Project Help, who were some of the first to assist those impacted and are continuing to provide their assistance;
      • The Red Cross, the Austin Disaster Relief Network, H-E-B, the Assistance League of Austin, AISD Food Service staff, Mendez Middle School cafeteria staff, Capital Metro and the Austin Police Department assisted students and families with clothing, housing, food, transportation and other needs; and
      • The many generous donors who supported our families and staff:
      Jeanne and Michael Klein, who contributed $50,000 to launch fundraising efforts
      The Tapestry Foundation and the Buena Vista Foundation, which joined efforts to issue a $40,000 matching challenge grant
      Wells Fargo
      The Links Town Lake Chapter
      MWM Design Group
      The Moody Foundation
      Sandy and Lisa Gottesman
      Julian Gold
      AISD Employee Charitable Fund;
      Members of the AISD Board of Trustees
      Members of my Senior Cabinet
      Ballet Austin

      So many individuals provided leadership in relief efforts and assistance to students and their families, including State Representative Eddie Rodriguez and Council Member Mike Martinez, and  representatives of such community organizations as the Dove Springs Neighborhood Association, Dove Springs Proud, the Dove Springs Recreation Center Advisory Board, and such religious organizations as The Springs Community Church, Parker Lane United Methodist Church,  Holy Family American Catholic Church, the Austin District of the United Methodist Church, and the Religious Coalition to Assist the Homeless.

      All 100 ACE tutors headed to Dove Springs on Veteran's Day to help with the flood clean up and ACE Perez Elementary tutors also worked helping families immediately after the flood.

      Please keep the families who are still putting their lives back together in your thoughts during this Thanksgiving season.

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      A performance of "Invincible" by the Barton Hills Elementary choir was featured in the State of the District movie.
      Together we're invincible! If you watch the AISD State of the District movie on the district website or on AISD Channel 22, you'll know what I mean by this phrase! Every year as part of our annual reporting rhythm, I present an update of the district’s goals, achievements, and challenges. This year, I put a call out to our staff and students to help us tell our story, and, through this lens, we were able to provide a snapshot of the current state of AISD in a movie format.
      This morning, the movie was shown at the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum in the Spirit Theater. Students from Pease, Pecan Springs, Campbell and Houston elementary schools were able to attend, and they really enjoyed the fog, stars, and rumbling seats. They got to take home blinking blue safety bracelets, used in the photo at the top during the movie.They had great questions and were a wonderful audience.

      We had the opportunity to recognize and honor these outstanding members of our AISD family:

      Elaine Leibick, a fourth grade teacher at Highland Park Elementary School who has taught for 34 years and was recognized for her work in 2012 with the HEB Lifetime Achievement Award;

      Adriana Gonzales, the principal of St. Elmo Elementary School, where she led the district in all reporting categories from 2003 – 2011;

      Billy Dragoo, Austin High School’s Theater Department director, who been named Teacher Educator of the Year by the Texas Educational Theater Association. It seems like Austin High’s one-act productions have won the UIL state championship almost every year that I have been superintendent --2009, 2011 and 2012;

      Jeanie Tuttle, a Librarian at Clayton Elementary School, who was a finalist for librarian of the year. Jeanie has provided outstanding service with Austin ISD for 37 years!

      Ida Collins is an AISD bus driver who has dedicated 38 years to Austin ISD. Imagine how many students Ida transported safely in all of those years!

      O Haywood, the head custodian at Galindo, has worked for the district even longer-- 51 years!

      Pam Hall, who this year announced her retirement as the district’s Executive Director of Human Resources, has devoted 36 years to Austin ISD as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and in central office. She was named 2011 Personnel Administrator of the Year by the TX Association of School Personnel Administrators;
      Anderson High School student Matthew McDermott inspired the younger students with his record of perfect attendance and the highest GPA every year since kindergarten.
      An outstanding senior who has had perfect attendance every year since kindergarten, and the highest GPA through his junior year is Matthew McDermott;

      Dr. Charles Akins has had a distinguished career in AISD as a teacher, principal, administrator and volunteer; and

      Leonore Vargas, who works with the Austin Project and offered tremendous support during the recent floods in southeast Austin.

      The State of the District movie was the work of many hands. Our students and staff sent us hours and hours of great material from schools and departments throughout the district. We’ll be posting as much as we can on the district’s website, hopefully by the end of the week. Thank you to everyone who contributed.

      The movie was simultaneously posted on the district website and will be broadcast all day on AISD Channel 22. 

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      One of the highlights of my year took place yesterday, when students from the horticulture program at our Clifton Career Development School delivered poinsetta plants to brighten up our office. Thanks to these students and Clifton faculty for dropping by and brightening up our day!

      Liam Le Coz
      Patrick Bultler
      Kathryn Cullers
      Dwa Hi Da
      Jacobo Gonzalez
      Zach Baker
      Gabrielle Duran
      Diana Vara (not shown)
      Clayton Vader (Horticulture Teacher)
      Nohemi Galvez (Liam Le Coz - one-to-one assistant)

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       photo 1a158c00-639a-43cb-a1fe-a1501ad32c22_zpsf04fde52.jpg
      Earl Maxwell, Executive Director of the St. David’s Foundation, and Kevin Cole, Director of the Austin Public Education Foundation, help me celebrate with a big check!
      Today, the St. David’s Foundation announced it is investing $1,068,051 in AISD’s Social and Emotional Learning program, known as SEL. At a press conference today at Govalle Elementary School in East Austin, Earl Maxwell, Executive Director of the St. David’s Foundation, joined a group of our partners to announce the grant and to offer perspectives on why it is so important that this program be expanded to schools throughout the district as soon as possible . The funding will allowing the district to make a huge leap in our progress towards this goal.

      This work responds to the very real need to focus on building perseverance and resilience in our children. These skills are foundational to the academic success of our students. If students can persevere – set goals, overcome obstacles and develop healthy relationships – we know they will be more successful in work and in life.  Studies are showing that employers are prioritizing applied skills such as communication and teamwork when hiring new employees. SEL builds these skills. There is mounting research to support the idea that educating the heart, through social and emotional learning, is as important as educating the brain.

      Our district is one of eight school districts in the nation to participate in the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) Collaborating Districts Initiative.  Austin joined the collaborative and began implementing the program in 2011. We have chosen to roll SEL out over a five year period in 2-3 vertical teams at a time, while working on climate and culture and cultural proficiency in all schools and central office. We started with two vertical teams, Austin and Crockett, which had applied to be “pioneers” in this area.  In the past year, we have added the Eastside Memorial, McCallum, and Travis vertical teams, and we intend to expand to all vertical teams by 2015.

      Last year, Jeanne and Michael Klein, Betsy and Hughes Abell from the Buena Vista Foundation and Carmel and Thomas Borders from the Tapestry Foundation issued a $1 million challenge grant to SEL, which allowed AISD to begin expanding the initiative through instructional coaching, parent and classified personnel training, curriculum materials, campus facilitator stipends and professional development.

      With these two $1 million grants, as well as a recent grant of $300,000 from RGK Foundation and contributions from the Austin Community, AISD is well on its way to integrating SEL into all of its schools. However, AISD is still looking for funding sources to ensure the program is expanded across the district.

      While we haven’t reached the stage in our program to be able to provide hard data about the effects of SEL, we are In Austin, we’re in the early stages of implementing SEL, and we do not yet have multi-year program evaluation results. We are seeing encouraging trends to suggest that the data will be positive. For example, at one middle school that is using SEL, discipline referrals for sixth grade students in the first six weeks of school in 2012 were 39% percent lower than the previous year. In our recent State of the District movie, which I know all of you have seen online, we highlighted a teacher at Austin High School who credits SEL with significant decreases in referrals and increases in passing rates among students in his MAPS class, where he teaches SEL skills.

      One area where SEL is especially important is in our district’s efforts to change the way we deal with disciplinary referrals. Students who are removed from the classroom for discretionary reasons and non-violent behavior, who have disproportionately been African American and special education students, no longer are sent away from the campus to a separate disciplinary alternative education center. Instead, they remain on campus and are provided better behavior, including SEL. This is having a positive effect on performance and attendance.
      Govalle is one of the first implementers of SEL, and Principal Nancy Maniscalco showed  us SEL in action in the classroom of first grade teacher Lyndi Garrett.

      This announcement continues a partnership between AISD and the St. David’s Foundation that has existed over the years and benefited so many of our families. Thanks to the support of the St. David’s Foundation, our cafeterias have been redesigned to support better student health, thousands of students have been able to get the dental and vision screening and care that they need, and during my tenure as superintendent, more than 20 AISD students have received college scholarships in honor of the late Neal Kocurek.

      We are grateful to the St. David's Foundation and all of our SEL partners for their support.

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      This morning, Ballet Austin invited a group backstage before a performance of The Nutcracker to view the new stage set. As part of my donation to support the new set for The Nutcracker and to support ten beloved colleagues, the names of these ten outstanding individuals will be inscribed in individual ornaments on the permanent set. Six of these ten were able to join me  this morning for an up-close look at the ornaments. Thanks, again, for all you have done!

      Laine Leibick, a fourth grade teacher at Highland Park Elementary School who has taught for 34 years and was recognized for her work in 2012 with the HEB Lifetime Achievement Award;

      Adriana Gonzales, the principal of St. Elmo Elementary School, where she led the district in all reporting categories from 2003 – 2011;

      Billy Dragoo, Austin High School’s Theater Department director, who been named Teacher Educator of the Year by the Texas Educational Theater Association. It seems like Austin High’s one-act productions have won the UIL state championship almost every year that I have been superintendent --2009, 2011 and 2012;

      Jeanie Tuttle, a Librarian at Clayton Elementary School, who was a finalist for librarian of the year. Jeanie has provided outstanding service with Austin ISD for 37 years!

      Ida Collins is an AISD bus driver who has dedicated 38 years to Austin ISD. Imagine how many students Ida transported safely in all of those years!

      O Haywood, the head custodian at Galindo, has worked for the district even longer-- 51 years!

      Pam Hall, who this year announced her retirement as the district’s Executive Director of Human Resources, has devoted 36 years to Austin ISD as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and in central office. She was named 2011 Personnel Administrator of the Year by the TX Association of School Personnel Administrators;

      An outstanding senior who has had perfect attendance every year since kindergarten, and the highest GPA through his junior year is Matthew McDermott;

      Dr. Charles Akins has had a distinguished career in AISD as a teacher, principal, administrator and volunteer; and

      Leonore Vargas, who works with the Austin Project and offered tremendous support during the recent floods in southeast Austin. 

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