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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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    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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    Tomorrow, communities throughout the country will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Earlier this week, community members in Newtown, Conn. launched an online memorial, which features a simple and poignant design: a heart created from the first names of the 26 victims.

    As a country—as a school community—we were deeply saddened to learn about the loss of 20 children and six teachers and staff members. Since then, our thoughts and prayers have remained with the school’s community and families as they came together to heal and rebuild.

    Last year’s school shooting in Connecticut is a tragic reminder that we must all remain vigilant to safeguard campus security.

    In AISD, safety always is our number one priority. For almost three decades, the district has maintained its own police department. Situations that threaten our schools’ safety and security are never tolerated or acceptable. The district has been and will continue to be vigilant in our efforts to protect every child and team member from harm.

    AISD’s award-winning police department evaluates the district’s safety needs and procedures on a regular basis. And, every day, we ask our team members, families and community members to help us ensure our schools remain safe by alerting principals if they have any safety concerns or see people whom they do not recognize.

    In order to protect the security of our students, staff members and campus communities, AISD requires all visitors to report to the school’s main office, present appropriate identification and wear a visible visitor’s badge at all times. If regular visits to schools or direct interactions with students are anticipated, visitors must consent to a criminal history background check.

    We continually explore new options for increasing security protocols as needed. Some of the district’s safety and security upgrades were made possible by funds from the 2008 bond. Most recently, the district has taken these steps to increase our campus safety:

    • This week, the St. David’s Foundation announced it is matching last year’s million-dollar challenge with an investment of $1,068,051 in AISD’s Social and Emotional Learning program. SEL is the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to recognize and manage their emotions, demonstrate caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations constructively.

    • At the start of the school year, all principals received specialized training on safety and security protocols and were asked to reinforce those protocols with staff members.

    • District-wide, AISD provided additional professional development opportunities for principals that focus on how to tighten procedures to ensure that all students are accounted for throughout the day.

    • This fall, AISD improved exterior play spaces at the elementary schools to further safeguard our students.

    • Beginning this year, the AISD police department dedicated six officers to patrol and monitor all elementary schools in the city during the school day—an increase over previous years—to complement the 69 officers already serving our middle and high schools and the district. 
    These are a few examples of AISD’s ongoing, district-wide commitment to ensure our students, team members and school communities remain safe and secure. For information about additional resources that help keep our school communities well-informed, healthy and out of harm’s way, please visit the AISD website.

    We do not do this work alone. Thank you for everything you do every day to keep our school communities safe.

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    Today, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reported AISD students ranked second in fourth grade math and third in eighth grade math in the percentage of students scoring at the proficient or advanced levels. In reading, our students ranked third in both fourth and eighth grade. AISD’s English-language learners outperformed their peers in both the nation and large cities for the first time. I'm proud of our students and teachers for their accomplishments and I am pleased that our district’s hard work continues to pay off.

    AISD met its goal with dramatic decreases in the percentage of Austin’s students excluded from the NAEP assessments. For example, fourth grade students excluded from the reading assessment due to limited English proficiency and/or disabilities decreased from 20 percent in 2005 to 4 percent in 2013.

    Despite the changing composition of the students who were tested, Austin continued to perform well in comparison to the nation, large cities and urban districts.

    Results for mathematics were particularly strong, a testament to the district’s emphasis on numeracy, integration challenging content within the curriculum and the investment of resources to provide supports for students.

    The Nation’s Report Card also reported:

    • Austin’s economically disadvantaged students outscored their peers in both the nation and large cities on the eighth grade reading assessment for the first time.
    • Austin’s English-language learners outscored their peers in both the nation and large cities on the fourth grade reading assessment for the first time.
    • Austin’s students in all groups outscored their peers in large cities on the eighth grade math assessment, and white students and English-language learners outscored their peers nationwide.
    • Austin’s students in most groups outscored their peers in both large cities and the nation on the fourth grade math assessment.
    • Even with dramatic decreases in the percentage of students excluded in the assessment, Austin’s fourth and eighth grade students still made significant gains over time in both reading and math.
    Since 2005, Austin ISD has participated in NAEP’s Trial Urban District Assessment administration. Representative samples of students from a total of 21 school districts across the United States participated in the 2013 assessment of fourth and eighthgrade students in reading and mathematics, providing an opportunity to benchmark progress over time as well as performance against students in other participating urban districts, large U.S. cities and the nation.

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  • 12/19/13--12:04: Thanks for Your Generosity
  • A big thank you to all who contributed to our district's 2013 AISD Gives campaign and to those who participated in the campaign events. Together, we raised $38,604! 

    Giving binds us together as a community in the shared mission of creating opportunities for all.  Thank you for giving your money or time to help make Austin a better place.



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  • 12/20/13--13:19: Article 0

  • Artwork by Harper Brand, Murchison Middle School, Jill Escamilla, Art Teacher

    Wishing you peace, joy, 

    hope and happiness

    during this Season

    and throughout the New Year

    Meria Joel Carstarphen

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    Today, is the birth date of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the district hosted its annual celebration to honor Dr. King at the Carruth Administration Center. A big thank you to the students, staff and families who attended the event to honor Dr. King and his legacy.

    Kiara Hopkins (left), a student at Webb Middle School, read her essay honoring Dr. King, followed by
    Rodell Hopkins and Josh Rogers,  tudents at Lanier High School and 
    Gavriel Rachael-Homann (right), a student at Garza High School .
    The Fulmore Middle School Choir, directed by Yvette Carroll, sang “A Dream Within a Dream” by Ruth Morris Gray and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” a traditional spiritual arranged by Rollo Dilworth with additional text by Langston Hughes.

    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 all over the world, not just African Americans. He showed us how to seek change by working within the system, while still challenging injustice.

    This year, the world lost another giant in the fight for equal rights with the death of Nelson Mandela. Here in Austin, we mourned two local and beloved community leaders, Willie Mae Kirk and pastor Marvin Griffin, who led Ebenezer Baptist Church and was the first African American elected to serve as president of the AISD Board of Trustees beginning in 1978. As I watched the worldwide tributes to Mandela, and the outpouring of love in our city for Mrs. Kirk, and Mr. Griffin, I was so moved by the difference one courageous individual can make in the lives of so many, either on the world stage or in own communities.

    In December, I was awarded the 2013 DeWitty/Overton Freedom Award by the NAACP for my commitment to civil rights and social justice. In our academic and facilities work, our district has made strides in alleviating overcrowding, expanding opportunities, and strengthening academic offerings in parts of town that often have been neglected. This I believe Dr. King would be proud of. And we cannot 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.

    Here in Austin, Dr. King’s dream was shared by many African American educators, community leaders and political leaders for whom some of our schools are named. Today, I would like to read the list of schools, and the individuals for whom they were named:
    • Akins High School, educator Charles Akins;
    • Anderson High School, educator L.C. Anderson;
    • Blackshear Elementary, educator E. L. Blackshear;
    • Campbell Elementary, educator Lee Lewis Campbell;
    • Hart Elementary, educator and trustee Bernice Hart;
    • Jordan Elementary, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan;
    • Kealing Middle School, educator Hightower Theodore Kealing;
    • Norman Elementary, educator G.W. Norman;
    • Overton Elementary, community leader Volma Overton;
    • Sims Elementary, educator Mary Jane Sims; and
    • The Delco Activity Center, named for Exalton and Wilhelmina Delco, a former trustee and political leader.
    In spite of the work and contributions of these and so many other courageous individuals, 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.

    Dr. King said “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education.” 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’re not there yet, but there are concrete signs of progress:
    • AISD’s most vulnerable student groups have seen increased achievement. In particular African-American, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students have made gains—from increasing attendance and graduation rates, performance on state assessments, school ratings, college readiness and post-secondary enrollment to decreasing dropout rates and disciplinary referrals.
    • Graduation rates have increased by 13.9 percentage points to 79.6 percent for African-American students; by 14.7 percentage points to 78.6 percent for Hispanic students; and by 17.7 percentage points to 78.9 for economically disadvantaged students. And, dropout rates have declined by several percentage points.
    • During the past four years, AISD also has decreased discretionary removals for African-American, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students by between 76 and 81 percent at the high school level.
    So in AISD, I believe we do honor the legacy of Dr. King. I invite you to join me in embracing his ideals. Whatever you do to support our students and schools makes a difference in their lives, and of that I believe Dr. King would be proud.

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  • 01/17/14--09:26: Say Thanks to Our Teachers!
  • Anderson High School's National Board Certified teachers encourage others to pursue this advanced teaching credential.
    Most of us have our own stories about how a teacher, or teachers, influenced us. I hope anyone who has ever had a teacher who make a difference in their life will participate in "Thank A Million Teachers" sponsored by Farmers Insurance Company. At the Texas kickoff for this national campaign at Anderson High School, we invited everyone to show our teachers how much we support them, while also helping them become better teachers.

    Teachers who are selected for a Thank A Million Teachers grant can receive up to $2,500 to cover the cost of pursuing National Board certification, which is an advanced teaching credential. Like board-certified doctors and lawyers, teachers who achieve National Board Certification have met rigorous standards through intensive study, expert evaluation, self-assessment and peer review.

    Austin ISD has 261 National Board Certified Teachers, which is more than any other district in Texas. Another 36 candidates are pursuing National Board certification right now. Our district covers registration fees, provides mentor support, and, pays a stipend to teachers who achieve certification.

    To nominate a teacher  or teachers for this opportunity, register for the campaign at

    TEA Commissioner Michael Williams helped Anderson IB student Carlos Cabello adjust his bow tie before speaking at the kickoff event.

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    Last Friday, schools throughout the region closed when a winter storm caused icy roads, plunging temperatures, and sleet and snow in central Texas. On Thursday evening, as the storm worsened, we made a decision to close school and notified our school community as quickly as possible.

    When bad weather or other emergencies require school schedules to be changed on short notice, our district makes every effort to notify the school community as soon as a decision is made. We are very aware that parents and families need to hear from us, so that they can plan accordingly.

    Last week, I heard from families that expressed frustration about the timing of our decision to close schools, and when we notify them. I want to assure our school community that we do our best to provide timely information through as many channels as possible. However, we do not always have control over the timing of a final decision.

    Today, after a sunny weekend, another winter storm is expected to bring more sleet and freezing temperatures.

    We have a handful of time-sensitive opportunities to make decisions about weather closings. The first would be to cancel after-school activities, which we did not do today. The second is to make a decision in time for the 10 o'clock news. This evening, the National Weather Service issued a Winter Weather Advisory for the Austin area until noon tomorrow. Therefore, we are able to notify families of a two-hour delay in the opening of school, bus schedules, and office hours for tomorrow, Tuesday, Jan. 28th. I announced this at tonight’s Board meeting and through various communication channels this evening.

    We will continue to monitor the weather, and will only call families again at or about 6:00 in the  morning if the district needs to cancel school, since  families have indicated that they do not wish to receive phone calls any earlier in the morning on the day of a delay or school closing.

    As soon as we are aware that bad weather may be a possibility, representatives of affected district operations gather to respond. Affected operations include transportation, facilities, food service, law enforcement including emergency operations staff, after school programming, athletics, fine arts and others. We share information provided to us via conference calls arranged by the City of Austin's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Office. The largest partners in these conference calls are the City of Austin, Travis County, the University of Texas and AISD, but many others participate.

    In these conference calls, we rely heavily on information provided by the National Weather Service and local meteorologists to provide the best and most reliable information. The meteorologists often want to wait as late as possible, when better data allows for more accurate forecasts and precise solutions. This wait can conflict with the district's need to notify families early as possible.

    AISD staff is present at the Emergency Management Center from the time it is opened by the City of Austin until the time the City closes it. While discussions are taking place with other partner entities, the district's communications office prepares to provide information to families as soon as it is available. Information is provided through web announcements, press releases, social media and text and telephone messaging to families.

    Some families do not wish to receive automated telephone calls notifying them of changes in school schedules due to weather events. They can opt instead to receive text or e-mail notifications by visiting
    We understand our school community's desire for timely information, and we do our very best to balance this desire with the need for coordinated community-wide emergency planning in these situations.

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    AISD's Executive Director of the Office of Innovation and Development Michelle Wallis, donor Jeanne Klein, SEL Director Sherrie Raven, and Betsy Abell of the Buena Vista Foundation were on hand to witness the contract singing.
    Today, Kevin Cole, Chair of the Austin Public Education Foundation, stopped by to sign the contract with St. David's Foundation to finalize a grant of $1,068,051 to support the district's expansion of the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) initiative.

    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. Funding from the St. David's Foundation will allow us to proceed with this expansion. Thanks to all of our partners for their support of Social and Emotional Learning in Austin ISD.

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  • 02/11/14--13:44: Healthy Smiles for Our Kids!

  • AISD Student Health Services Tracy Lunoff and St. David's Foundation Chairman Earl Maxwell helped kick off Smile Week with a big brush!

    Today, St. David’s Foundation kicked off “Smile Week” to celebrate 15 years of providing free dental services to Austin’s low income children. More than 33,000 students in our district have received free dental care on St. David’s vans over the last ten years. During this time, our students have received dental care that would otherwise have cost more than $16 million!

    As the country’s largest mobile dental program that provides free dental care, the St. David’s program serves as a model for the entire country, and our students here in Austin are so fortunate to benefit from this leadership.  St. David's just added three new vans, bringing the total number to nine. These vans go to high-needs elementary schools in the region, and offer dental services to every student in the school. Students receive x-rays, examinations, cleanings, sealants, and fillings as part of their treatment.
    St. David's dental hygienist Ashley Nichols loves her work with our kids.
    In our district, nearly two out of three students in our district come from families that are economically disadvantaged. Some reports show that about one-third of students from low-income families are reported to have untreated tooth decay. For these students, the mobile van may be the first opportunity to receive teeth cleanings and protective sealants that other families often take for granted as part of good dental hygiene.
    Inside the van, it looks just like a dentist's office.
    Good dental hygiene that starts early can make an enormous difference for all of our students not just when they’re in school, but throughout their  lives. Free, on-site dental care is not only a gift, it is an investment that will pay dividends in the form of better dental health for many years to come.

    I want to encourage our students to take care of their smiles by brushing their teeth regularly and eating healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Hats off to the St. David’s Foundation for helping us all to have a healthy smile! 

    Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Earl Maxwell, and former AISD Board Chair Mark Williams helped me put on our smiles.
    St. David's Foundation Board Member and Singer Ray Benson wrote his own Smile Week lyrics.

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  • 02/21/14--15:18: We Remember Barbara Jordan

  • February 21 is the birthday of Barbara Jordan, who would have been 78 years old today. This morning, I joined the students and staff of Barbara Jordan Early College Prep Elementary School in celebrating the life and legacy of this courageous leader.  AISD Trustee Ann Teich and many parents and friends attended, too. Students presented songs and performances in honor of their school’s namesake. And of course, we all sang Happy Birthday! 

    Shirley Franklin, left, former Mayor of Atlanta, was our special guest speaker. Principal Diana Vallejo and Tristyn McElroy.

    These are some of the thoughts I shared with our students:

    Barbara Jordan believed in the power and importance of education. She said, “Education remains the key to both economic and political empowerment.”  Barbara Jordan didn’t have much money growing up in Houston. But she graduated from high school back in 1952, went to college and then went to law school. Education paved the way for her future success.

    Barbara Jordan was a trailblazer. She was the first African American woman in the Texas Senate. She was the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress from the South. She created a new path for many others, including me, to follow.

    Barbara Jordan proved that one person can make a big change in this world. When our country was in crisis in the 1970s and it looked like our system of law laid out in the Constitution was threatened, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan was a brave and brilliant leader, who helped preserve the Constitutional protections for the American people.

    She is one of the best people I can think of to name a school after and to serve as a role model for your generation and future generations. Happy Birthday, Barbara Jordan!

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    On Sunday, February 23, I had the pleasure of congratulating hundreds of our district’s outstanding African American elementary, middle and high school students at the 31st annual AISD African American Heritage Celebration. 

     Students and their families filled the hall at Palmer Auditorium for a ceremony that featured dance and musical performances by students from the Ann Richards School for Young Leaders.

    This year, these ten high school seniors were named Senior Scholars, having been named Outstanding African American Students for each of their four high school years:
    Nia Thomas, Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders
    Vanessa Banks, Crockett High School
    Brandon Nobles, Eastside Memorial High School
    Divine Ntomchukwu. Lanier High School
    Jasmine Bertram, LASA
    Aja Dunn, McCallum High School
    Marcus Cole, McCallum High School
    Shawn Smith, Reagan High School
    Ilya Maxwell, Travis High School
    Marcus Fowler, Travis High School
    The following AISD staff members, volunteers and community organizations were honored with awards:

    • W. Charles Akins Award: Gilbert Hicks, AISD Associate Superintendent for Area 3 Schools
    • H.L. Gaines Award: Patrick Patterson, Executive Director of the UT Outreach Center, Division of Diversity and Community Engagement
    • Darlene Westbrook Leadership in Education Award: Jacqueline Porter, AISD Director of Early Childhood Education
    • Distinguished Teacher Award: Debra Overton
    • Distinguished Teacher Award: Don Haynes, Director of Bands, LBJ High School
    • Community Service Award: Neighborhood Longhorns Program
    • Volunteer Service Award: Larry Comer, Public Relations Director, Association of Texas Professional Educators
    • Unsung Hero Award: Ormide Armstrong, Director of Bands, Reagan High School

    Congratulations to these Student Essay Winners:
    First Place: Shara Henderson, Ann Richards School
    Second Place: Perla Grimaldo-Ramirez, Ann Richards School
    Third Place: Jose Pimentel, Lanier High School

    First Place: Kenny Silva, Brentwood Elementary
    Second Place: Rome Henderson, Boone Elementary
    Third Place: Emily Achterman, Barton Hills Elementary
    Fourth Place: Anna May Stouse, Casis Elementary
    Fifth Place: Quinn Bryan, Menchaca Elementary

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    Our district's Dual Language program had its own "storefront" space,and many of our staff were on hand to provide information to families.
    On Saturday, February 22, our district participated in the eighth Feria Para Aprender, a learning fair for Spanish dominant families. This annual eventis designed to help Spanish-speaking parents become key leaders of their children’s academic success. Many AISD departments, nonprofit organizations and several universities were on hand to answer questions about topics ranging from early childhood education to scholarship applications. Professionals from in-demand careers spoke about their experiences and the benefits of education. Every year, this event continues to reach thousands of Latino parents and students who are drawn by its unique Spanish-language educational format. Its a great way for our families to learn about the many different educational opportunities our district has to offer.

    Ann Richards School students, who wear uniforms to school, review the choices of possible uniforms for the new single gender schools at Pearce and Garcia.

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    HI! Our names are Nancy and Mark-Ja' and we're 6th graders at Matthews Elementary. Today we are visiting AISD headquarters and learning a lot.

    We Judged How Much Fun We Had!!


    Sherrie Raven was the first person we interviewed she works on ‘‘SEL’’ (social emotional learning). SEL is important so kids could learn how to communicate with each other. She is preparing for a panel discussion at SXSWedu called “Moving Beyond the "id" in Kid: Why Teaching Social Emotional Learning Will Change the World.” Dr. Carstarphen is going to be on the panel.

    Cesar Gutierrez makes sure the teachers have the right supplies to teach students science. Which is important because our education depends on our teachers having the right supplies. Mr. Goodman works on fine arts like band and orchestra. Asha Dane’el works on programs to help kids and parents, so that their children have after school programs so they can interact with children. 

    “I thought it was Amazing”! That there are 123 schools in the AISD school district including elementary, middle school and high school. That’s about 86,000 kids and at least a third of the of 86,000 kids ride the bus. 

    Adriana Solis and Betty Rodriguez work in Customer Service in the Superintedent's office. They say the hardest thing they deal with in their career is the time limit they have on assignments. Rosa Palacios helps with  Board meetings. Toni Baker helps schedule the superintendent's meetings. 

    We met with Dr. Carstarphen and we asked what was the most fustrating part about her career, and she responded that she doesn't like when people lose sight of the focus on kids!

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    Today is Read Across America Day and schools across the country are celebrating the birthday of Dr. Seuss by reading his books and wearing funny hats! I participated in the first-ever Read Across America event at our district's newest school, Guerrero-Thompson Elementary, with 35 AISD staff members and friends who volunteered to read. Other schools in our district also held special events for Read Across America Day.

    We all recited the Readers Oath:

    I promise to read
    Each day and each night.
    I know it’s the key
    To growing up right.
    I’ll read to myself,
    I’ll read to a crowd.
    It makes no difference,
    If silent or loud.
    I’ll read at my desk,
    At home and at school,
    On my bean bag or bed,
    By the fire or pool.
    Each book that I read
    Puts smarts in my head
    ‘Cause brains grow more thoughts
    The more they are fed.
    So I take this oath
    To make reading my way
    Of feeding my brain
    What it needs every day.

    Thanks to all of the students and staff at Guerrero-Thompson Elementary for being such great readers and hosting this event today!
    District 3 Trustee Ann Teich leads a class in reading the oath.
    AISD Chief of Staff Mel Waxler...
    ...State Trooper Gilbert Villarreal....
    ...former AISD administrator Anita Uphaus..
    ...and Principal La Kesha Drinks, left, with students Genado Ugarte (above) and Jonas Arias (below).
    The front office staff, plus the bear, are wearing funny hats for Read Across America Day.

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    It's a wrap! SXSWedu ends today, after a shivery but productive three days at the Austin Convention Center. I was so proud of our students and staff for representing our district so well as panelists, participants, and planners. More than 1,000 students attended the SXSWedu Expo,which featured information on changes to graduation plans, including endorsement areas, as well as student performances and demonstrations, and information on AISD career opportunities.and the district's Social Emotional Learning initiative.

    Students journalists from Anderson, Bowie, Crockett, LASA, Reagan and Travis covered SXSWedu for their schools’ student newspapers and the district’s website, social media channels and event blog.

    I joined UT Austin Assistant Professor of Psychology David Scott Yeager and Rosalind Wiseman, author of “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” which was the basis of the movie “Mean Girls,” in a panel discussion “Moving Beyond the "id" in Kid: Why Teaching Social Emotional Learning Will Change the World.” The panel was moderated by Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Board of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.

    Thanks to all of the students and staff who were such great ambassadors for our district.

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  • 03/07/14--13:10: Tack Tack Packs for Our Kids
  • Last night, as part of a teambuilding exercise, our school board members and I assembled Tack Tack Packs that will be donated to students at the Children's Shelter. 

    What's a Tack Tack Pack? It's a rolled blanket filled with notebooks, pencils, pens, Frisbees, band aids, granola bars, crayons, rulers and hygiene products.

    Today, a big shipment of Tack Tack Packs were delivered to Mathews Elementary and O. Henry Middle School.

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    Thanks so much to TEAM AISD and the entire Austin community for supporting the Rosedale Ride and the Silent Auction on Saturday, March 22! 1,250 cyclists participated in this year's Ride, bringing in over $50,000 in registration fees, as well as another $50,000 in corporate donations. I want to especially thank these major sponsors: Samsung Austin Semiconductor, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Polycom, Pride of Austin Capital Partners, and Whittington and Company, for their ongoing support.

    Proceeds from this race are used to help Rosedale School continue to provide additional resources, including new IPads our students are using to communicate with their teachers and friends, additional training for teachers, and extra field trips. 

    For a moving tribute to our great Rosedale staff and students, view the documentary by Arrowhead Films that was presented at this year's Silent Auction:

    Rosedale teacher Brian Miller serves as the emcee and kazoo player at the starting line.
    Rosedale Principal Elizabeth Dickey on the road.

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    Fortunately, Julia Lund has experience with billboard signing.
    To celebrate Youth Art Month, today Bowie High School student artist Julia Lund signed a billboard at 1614 Montopolis that displays her winning art work. This is the second time Julia's work has been selected to display on billboards throughout the city. We are so proud of her and impressed with her talent. Julia, her art teacher, Carlye Brookshire, and I were lifted into the air in the bucket of a fire truck to reach the billboard. Thanks to the Austin Fire Department for their support in giving our students this great exposure.

    Julia's grandmother, family and fellow students watched her sign the billboard.
    Thanks to the Austin Fire Department for supporting our students again this year.
    Bowie High School art students came out to support their fellow artist.
    Billboards, sponsored by A+ Federal Credit Union and Reagan National Advertising, Inc., are located all over town at these addresses:

    6850 Airport Boulevard
    10615 Burnet Road
    1614 Montopolis Road
    5419 Congress Ave.
    Howard Lane
    13009 Dessau Road
    US 183 North
    2800 US 183 South
    2005 1st St.
    2401 E. Cesar Chavez St.

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    Each year, more than 1,500 works of art by students from elementary, middle and high schools throughout the district is displayed in the lobby at One Congress Plaza, 111 Congress Avenue. This year, the Youth Art Month Show continues through Monday, April 14. There is no charge for admission, and the exhibit is open from 7 AM- 7 PM Mon.-Fri and 9:00 AM- 1:00 PM Saturday. Thanks to Thomas Properties Group, an AISD Art Program sponsor, for donating space for this annual art show.

    Don't miss this opportunity to enjoy the great work of our district's talented artists.

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  • 04/23/14--14:31: Thanks for the Memories!
  • As I leave AISD today, I want to thank the Austin community for your support and friendship over the past five years.  It has been a privilege working side by side with thousands of committed, hardworking, passionate individuals who care about our district, not just one child or a few children, but all of our students and families.

    Our work is working: we have become a national model, drawing attention for our efforts to meet students where they are, while working to ensure they have a fighting chance to get to where they want to be—to achieve their greatest potential.

    As a school district, we have come together to support and help each other amid dwindling resources to serve our growing and incredibly diverse student body.

    This work hasn’t always been easy, but I leave Austin grateful for the many friendships I have formed and enriched by the journey, in all its parts.

    Thank you, and my best wishes to you for the future.