Kate McGee

Education Reporter

Kate is the education reporter at KUT, covering the Austin Independent School District, public, and higher education in Texas. She got her public radio start at Fordham University's WFUV, where she got her bachelor's degree in American Studies and History. Her voice has been heard on the East and West coasts as a reporter and producer for WNYC and KUNR in Reno, Nevada. She has also appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, The Takeaway and more. In her spare time, Kate enjoys discovering new music, traveling and trying local beers. 

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Education
3:32 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

Texas Wants to Push New Teacher Evaluation Rolllout Back Another Year

Commissioner Michael Williams on a tour of Eastside Memorial High School in 2013. He sent a letter to federal education leaders Wednesday asking for another year to monitor a new teacher evaluation system and a No Child Left Behind waiver.
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams wants an additional year to study a new state teacher evaluation system. The additional period would delay the official roll out for two years.

Commissioner Williams wrote a letter to federal education officials Wednesday, where he also requested the federal government extend a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements.

In a statement, Williams said:

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AISD
11:01 am
Wed July 23, 2014

Photos: Inside AISD's New Performing Art Center & Jaime Padron Elementary

A look at a corridor in the new Jaime D. Padron Elementary School in North Austin.
Meng Cao/KUT News

Construction continues on two Austin school district buildings that are set to open this academic school year. The two sites – a performing arts center in the Mueller development and Jaime D. Padron Elementary School near Rundberg Lane and U.S. Highway 183 – will meet the needs of Austin's expanding population.

The new performance arts center isn’t expected to be complete until November, with grand opening events in January of next year. But the shell of the 1,200-seat auditorium is already visible. The center will house everything from performance and rehearsal rooms, to a recording studio and a kiln for visual art.

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Education
8:25 am
Mon July 21, 2014

Akins High School Summer Camp Offers Students a Bridge into Computer Sciences

Campers Chris Folwick(left) and Jorge Sepulveda play the Connect Four game they've created with more than 2,000 lines of code. It's part of the STEMbridge camp that teaches students about computer science.
Credit Kate McGee, KUT News

Instead of going to a typical summer camp, this summer Chris Folwick and Jorge Sepulveda are crunching some numbers.

But Folwick and Sepulveda couldn't be happier. The two Akins High School students are a part of the STEMbridge program, which allows students to learn coding and develop useful computer science skills in a comprehensive four-week course.

This is the first summer the school has partnered with Austin nonprofit STEMed Labs to bring comprehensive, year-round computer science courses to the high school. It's put on with the help of a grant from the KDK Harmon Foundation.

Folwick and Sepulveda are playing Connect Four, but you won’t hear them playing with pieces. They’ve developed the game on the computer – by writing code.

For the past four weeks, the students have learned the basics of coding, but they say there were less computers than they thought there would be.

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UT Austin
5:44 pm
Wed July 16, 2014

UT Regent Investigation Focuses Less on Wallace Hall, More on Powers’ Resignation

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told state lawmakers asking UT-Austin President Bill Powers to resign was in the "best interest of the university."
Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

In what's become the never-ending story of state higher education news, the Texas House Transparency Committee continued to hash out details of the fractured relationship between the UT System Board of Regents and UT-Austin leadership Wednesday, as it investigates the actions of UT Regent Wallace Hall.

The committee is deciding if it should file impeachment proceedings against Hall, who some believe abused his powers as regent, but Wednesday's meeting also focused on last week's agreement for UT Austin President Bill Powers to resign at the end of the 2014-2015 school year.

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Affirmative Action
3:35 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

UT Affirmative Action Policies Stand in Fisher Ruling

flickr.com/ejmc

In a two to one opinion, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld UT-Austin's affirmative action policies – the subject of Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. You can read the decision here.

In a 2008 case, white student Abigail Fisher was not admitted into the university. She sued, claiming UT had discriminated against her because of her race. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, but the high court remanded the case to the circuit court last year, finding that when the court originally heard the case it didn't apply proper scrutiny to UT's affirmative action policies ­– as it was supposed to under a 2003 affirmative action case.

Read more background on the case here: So What Exactly Happened with Fisher v. University of Texas?

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AISD
8:25 am
Tue July 15, 2014

AISD Wants Public Input in the Search for Superintendent Carstarphen's Replacement

AISD hopes former Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's replacement will be selected with the help of public input.
Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Leaders in the Austin Independent School District want to know what kind of leader they should hire to run the 86,000 student school district and they're asking for the public's input. The district is holding a series of public input meetings this week starting Tuesday. The forums are part of the school board’s plan to have a more open search process. When the district hired former Superintendent Meria Carstarphen in 2009, she was unveiled as the sole finalist. The move upset some people in the community who thought the process lacked transparency. 

This time, the district will initially interview candidates in a closed search. After it identifies two to four finalists, it will introduce them to the public. Community groups, parents and stakeholders will then have a chance to provide feedback on the finalists. But before all that happens, the district wants to hear from the community about what kind of finalists they should be looking for in the first place so it can create a profile once it starts accepting applicants.

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Education
4:50 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

U.S. Education Secretary Hosts Austin Roundtable for Male Students of Color

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan sits with local high school and college students of color to get feedback on issues facing young males of color.
Credit Kate McGee, KUT News

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was at Austin Community College Friday afternoon meeting with male high school and college students of color. It’s part of the White House’s 'My Brother’s Keeper' initiative to close the achievement gap between young men of color and their peers.

Sitting in a circle, about 15 young African American and Hispanic male students sat with the secretary telling him about their role models, their aspirations and the struggles they face at home and school. Some had disciplinary problems, many were raised by single parents. Others were bullied or said they needed mentors.

Alberto Garcia is an ACC student who’s also taking care of his sister’s son.  He says one of the big problems for minority students in low-income neighborhoods is a lack of employment networking opportunities.

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Education
10:34 am
Tue June 17, 2014

AISD OKs Federal Prevailing Wages in Split Board Vote

Flickr user Michelllaurence https://flic.kr/ps/QL6HQ

An hour before the Austin school district’s board meeting began last night, more than fifty labor advocates were crowded in the courtyard outside, chanting, with handmade signs. By the time doors opened, the crowd had doubled.

After nearly four hours of deliberation, the crowd got its wish and erupted in cheers. In a 5-4 split vote, the board voted to adopt federal prevailing wages for workers on upcoming construction projects at Austin schools.

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Turning the Corner
9:33 am
Fri June 13, 2014

Dove Springs: Turning the Corner in Southeast Austin

Paula Aguilar, Leonor Vargas, George Morales, Eliseo Ramos, Bob Larson and Bene Jacobs (l to r)
KUT News

Welcome to Dove Springs. 

Driving through the neighborhood, you may not realize you’re in the same city that’s home to Franklin Barbeque, Barton Springs or the Continental Club. Five miles down I-35 from the Texas Capitol lies a modest residential area in the city’s southeast corner, one of the last neighborhoods many Austin residents pass as they head to the airport. 

It’s also one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods with a history of gangs and drugs, poverty, teen pregnancy and obesity.

But it's a neighborhood filled with hardworking parents, multi-generational families and cultural diversity. There’s always been a lot of pride, but recently, residents are giving the neighborhood a voice. They’re advocating for better services, organizing events and this fall, they’ll elect a city council member to specifically represent their district.

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Turning The Corner
2:50 pm
Thu June 12, 2014

This Teen's Looking Beyond Dove Springs – But Not Forgetting Where He Came From

Isay Medrano performs with the Mendez Middle School Varsity Orchestra during their Orchestra UIL competition at Austin High School. The orchestra achieved "sweepstakes" status for superior performance three times in a row.
Sam Ortega/KUT

Mendez Middle School lies in the heart of Dove Springs. It’s the only middle school in the neighborhood – so if you grow up in the area, it’s more than likely you’ve walked these halls.

Students here deal with lots of challenges. For one, more students at Mendez have at least one parent in jail than any other school in the district. Nearly 95 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Most students are being raised by just one parent. Others are undocumented – or their parents are.

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Education
10:20 am
Wed June 11, 2014

After Charter Fracas, AISD Hopes Allan Childhood Center Regains Parents' Trust

Allan Elementary has been empty this school year, but is ready to be retrofitted with a childhood center.
Nathan Bernier/KUT

East Austin resident Archette Alexander remembers when she took her son out of the neighborhood public elementary school and put him in a charter school. She says teachers had lost their passion due to all of the testing.

Now, Alexander’s youngest daughter is three, and she’s interested in putting her back in the school district – at AISD's early childhood center.

“The passion the other teachers have gives me hope as a parent that kids can thrive here,” Alexander says. 

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Turning the Corner
5:47 am
Fri May 30, 2014

For Dove Springs Principal, Data Are 'X-Rays' to Diagnose Ailing School

Student test scores have been improving at Mendez under Principal Ron Gonzales. Still, less than half of the seventh graders at Mendez passed the state assesment for Reading and Language Arts.
Bryan Winter for KUT News

This article is part of KUT's yearlong series Turning the Corner, taking a look at Austin's Dove Springs neighborhood. For decades, the neighborhood has had a negative reputation. Now, many community members are trying to change the perception of the 78744 zip code. Listen to those stories here.

Ron Gonzales loves numbers. It makes sense: he used to be a math teacher before he became a principal. His love of hard data is obvious when you enter Mendez Middle School, where he has been the principal for the past four years.  One of the first things you see is a bulletin board with each grade’s daily attendance rate. Next to it, he posts how much money the school lost due to absences that day.

“For example, yesterday we had 23 sixth graders and we also know lose $45 per scholar per day, so we lost $1,035 just for grade six," Gonzales says, pointing to the bulletin board.

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SXSW 2014
6:05 am
Thu May 29, 2014

Austin Releases SXSW Survey Results, But Offers Few Opinions

Rosechild, a band from California, performs in a front yard on E. Sixth during SXSW Music, Mar. 15. A post-event survey of SXSW has just been released.
Jon Shapley for KUTX

The City of Austin's special event office Wednesday night presented the results of a feedback survey on this year’s South by Southwest music festival.

Bill Manno, Corporate Special Events Program Manger for the City of Austin, hinted at possible changes they're discussing, but some meeting attendees say they still aren't sure of the point of the survey and felt it was vague and the questions were ambiguous.

“What are perceived as the problems that we’re addressing here?" asked Jimmy Stewart, owner of Do 512, an event listing and RSVP site in Austin. "That’s where I’m unclear. This questionnaire is passed, we went over the results, but what are the problems? What are the objectives?”

When Stewart asked that question to the panel, they didn’t have a specific answer.

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Suspensions at AISD
10:02 am
Wed May 21, 2014

This Austin High School Reduced Suspensions by Teaching Personal Responsibility

Kent Roberson, director of the Personal Responsibility Center at Reagan Early College High School. The center has helped reduce home suspensions by nearly 75 percent in one year.
Credit Kate McGee, KUT News

This is the final story in a three part series about student suspensions in the Austin Independent School District. Read Part One and Part Two.

In AISD, black students make up about eight percent of the student population. But last year they accounted for nearly a quarter of the students suspended from school. The so-called discipline gap is an issue in public schools across the nation, and it's something AISD has tried to combat since former Superintendent Meria Carstarphen came to AISD in 2009.  

Addressing Racial Disparities from the Top Down

AISD Interim Chief Schools Officer Edmund Oropez admits a discipline gap exists between African-American students and their peers, but he says the district has implemented various strategies aimed at closing it. A few years ago, the district created the Cultural Proficiency and Inclusiveness department. Leader Angela Ward single-handedly provides cultural awareness training to all new teachers and administrators. The training asks teachers to examine their own biases – something UT Professor Richard Reddick says is key to creating trusting relationships between teachers and students.    

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Suspensions at AISD
11:32 am
Tue May 20, 2014

Why Do Black Students Get More Suspensions? Here Are 3 Possible Reasons

Nearly one in eight African American students in AISD were given home suspensions last year, more than any other student. It's a national trend that the Department of Education says starts as early as preschool, but there are varying theories as to why.
Credit flickr.com/dcjohn/

This story is the second installment of a three-part series examining the so-called discipline gap among student groups who receive out-of-school suspensions in the Austin Independent School District. Read Part One here.

During the 2013 school year, African-American students made up eight percent of the AISD student population, but nearly a quarter of the students given an out-of-school suspension.

The discipline gap is not unique to the district; nationwide, black students are suspended at higher rates than their peers. In March, the U.S. Department of Education reported the trend in black student suspensions starts as young as preschool.

While many, including AISD officials, admit the discipline gap exists, fewer people seem to have a solid answer as to why. 

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Suspensions at AISD
11:37 am
Mon May 19, 2014

Black Students Are Eight Percent of AISD – and Nearly One-Fourth of Suspensions

Credit Zack Maxwell / Arlingtonvoice.com

Since 2009, the number of suspensions at Austin public schools has fallen. But African-American students continue to receive out-of-school suspensions at a higher rate than their peers.

During the 2013 school year, 1,066 African-American AISD students – almost 13 percent of the black student population of 8,334 – received out-of-school suspensions. In that same period, 549 white AISD students were suspended­ ­– only 2.24 percent of the 24,543 white student population. Going by those numbers, African-American students are nearly six times more likely to be suspended from school.

Despite teacher training and district efforts, many African-American parents and community members feel like their children aren't understood.

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Austin ISD
10:07 am
Fri May 16, 2014

These Students Forged a Friendship in Austin's 'Golden Age' of Integration

Richard Reddick, left, and Ryan Scarborough upon graduating from Johnston High School in 1990. The two lived in different Austin neighborhoods, but attended the same high school because of school integration policies.
Credit Richard Reddick

Austin has its own convoluted history when it comes to school integration – one involving multiple federal lawsuits and many different strategies to desegregate schools.

Busing was one of those strategies. Many students were bused across the city to schools on the other side of town. West Austin residents went to East Austin schools and visa versa. 

Saturday, May 17, marks 60 years since the Supreme Court struck down the concept of "separate but equal" in Brown v. Board of Education. It's a decision that affected students across the country. But for two Austin teenagers in the late 1980s, it also sparked a life-long friendship.

If you think about it, it’s a miracle Richard Reddick and Ryan Scarborough ever met. Scarborough, a white student from Austin’s Northwest Hills neighborhood, was bused to Johnston High School on Austin's east side, starting in 1986.

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UT Austin
1:41 pm
Mon May 12, 2014

Lege Committee Finds Grounds for Impeachment of UT Regent Hall

Dallas businessman Wallace Hall, Jr. takes notes at the University of Texas Board of Regents meeting on Feb. 14, 2013 in Austin.
Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

Update: The House Transparency Committee has voted 7-1 that grounds to impeach UT Regent Wallace Hall exist.

The matter of whether to recommend impeachment proceedings is a separate question still to be decided. The committee will reconvene May 21 to consider articles of impeachment against Hall. But some committee members are hoping the UT Board of Regents or Gov. Rick Perry will take action before then.

"You have a responsibility, Board of Regents," Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said. "You have known about this behavior for quite some time and you have a responsibility to take action to allow one trustee, one member to continue this misconduct, to allow someone to bring down the university. I think the responsibility lies with the Board of Regents. So we are looking to you to make some changes."

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Texas
10:43 am
Sun May 11, 2014

Here are the Results for Central Texas City and School Bond Elections

Many Central Texas towns held city and school bond elections on May 10.
Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

Local municipal and bond elections were held Saturday in many Central Texas communities. Voters approved five out of six Central Texas school school district bond propositions.  Here are some results from those elections, separated by municipality:

Cedar Park:

  • Council member Lowell Moore won his sixth term Saturday with 60 percent of the vote of Dr. Mo Jahadi. Jahadi received 39 percent of the vote.
  • Voters also elected former state representative Corbin van Arsdale to the city council. He ran unopposed.

Eanes:

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Turning the Corner
10:59 am
Fri May 9, 2014

How Teen Pregnancies at Mendez Middle School Were Cut Down to Zero

Last year 22 middle school students in Austin ISD became pregnant, but none were at Mendez Middle School, despite its location in the Austin neighborhood with the highest teen pregnancy rate. So what happened?
flickr.com/dongkwan

This article is part of KUT's yearlong series Turning the Corner, taking a look at Austin's Dove Springs neighborhood. For decades, the neighborhood has had a negative reputation. Now, many community members are trying to change the perception of the 78744 zip code. Listen to those stories here.

In the 2012-2013 school year, the Austin school district reported 303 student pregnancies districtwide. 22 of those pregnancies were middle school students.

Despite its location in the neighborhood with the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Travis County, none of them were at Mendez Middle School. So what happened? 

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