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. 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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Austin ISD
1:47 pm
Thu January 29, 2015

Classified Austin ISD Employees Ask For Five Percent Pay Raise

Francis and Patricia Garza hold up a sign requesting a 5% raise for AISD employees at the Board of Trustees meeting.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

Some bus drivers, custodians and teaching assistants in Austin public schools are asking the school board to give classified employees a five percent pay increase next year. At a school board meeting on Monday, classified employees said as Austin becomes a more expensive place to live, it's getting more difficult to live on their current salaries.

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Gender Divide
2:12 pm
Wed January 21, 2015

Timeline: How Austin ISD Decided To Create Two Single-Sex Middle Schools

Former Austin ISD School Board Trustee Cheryl Bradley represented District 1. She suggested AISD turn two struggling middle schools in her district into single-sex schools.
Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News

This year, two middle schools on Austin’s East Side became single-sex schools. Garcia and Pearce Middle schools are located in one of Austin’s most challenged neighborhoods: University Hills. The schools have struggled academically, and school board members and district and state education officials agreed: Something needed to change. But the decision to make these schools single-sex was controversial — even among members of the school board.

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Austin ISD
3:29 pm
Fri January 16, 2015

Austin Mayor Steve Adler Wants Collaboration with Austin ISD

The new Austin mayor says there should be more communication and collaboration between the city and school district.
Joy Diaz/KUT

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has a lot on his plate: housing affordability, traffic, and water resources to name a few.

But he wants to tackle another issue: education.

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Education
10:11 am
Thu January 15, 2015

Austin ISD Plans to Lobby Lawmakers for Full-Day Pre-K

Denise Cisneros helps two of her preschool students practice their letters. Cisneros teachers full day pre-K at the Lucy Read Pre-K center.
Credit Kate McGee/KUT News

The sun is just beginning to rise as Denise Cisneros greets her pre-school students at the Lucy Read Pre-K center as they enter her classroom.

"How are you going to greet me today?" Cisneros asked a student at the front of the line.

"I would like a bug hug please," the little girl replied, giving Cisneros a hug before walking into the classroom.

Austin ISD offers full-day pre-K programs, but has to pay for half of the program itself because Texas only funds half-day preschool programs for qualifying students: low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with learning disabilities. But lawmakers filed at least four bills to require all school districts to offer free, full-day pre-kindergarten classes. Austin ISD would like to offer universal pre-K to all students. This year, Austin ISD also started a few pre-K programs for three-year-olds.

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Austin ISD
8:30 am
Wed January 14, 2015

Austin ISD To Offer Free Online Test Prep To High School Students

More Austin public school students took the SAT and ACT last year than in any years prior.
Shannan Muskopf/Texas Tribune

The Austin Independent School District is starting to offer free online SAT and ACT prep programs to all 21,000 high school students in the district. 

Last year, more Austin public school students took the SAT and ACT, two national tests used in the college admissions process, and students continued to score higher on the ACT. The average overall SAT score for AISD students was 1507, higher than the national and statewide average. 

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Education
5:54 pm
Mon January 12, 2015

Q&A: Texas Legislature to Tackle School Vouchers

Credit David/flickr

The 2015 legislative session is upon us. And while there haven’t been any committee hearings or votes yet, lawmakers are already beating the drum on a variety of issues. When it comes to education, conservative lawmakers, including Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, are already talking about the idea of school choice for all Texas students.

“Not just the wealthy who can send their children to private school, and not just those who have the mobility to move to the suburbs," Patrick said last week.  "But for parents in the inner cities where their children are trapped in failing schools, it is their right to have those same opportunities.”

Patrick thinks one solution is school vouchers.  But what are school vouchers? KUT's Kate McGee and Nathan Bernier break down the issue:

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College
3:56 pm
Thu January 8, 2015

On College Admissions Essays, Even the Smallest Words Matter

A new UT Austin study found that students who used the words 'the' and 'a' more often than personal pronouns such as 'I' and 'they' in their college admissions essays had higher GPAs.
Credit https://www.flickr.com/b-tal/

Small words like ‘the’ and ‘a’ may say more than you think. New research from UT Austin finds they can tell us a lot – even predicting a student’s grades in college.

Researchers analyzed more than 50,000 college admissions essays, and they found that students who used words such as 'the’ and ‘a’ in their essays tended to have higher grade point averages. Students who used more personal pronouns, such as ‘I’ and ‘they,’ tended to have lower GPAs.

Researchers say these smaller words can show what people are thinking about and how they frame that thinking.

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Austin ISD
4:28 pm
Wed January 7, 2015

Civil Rights Group Wants Austin School District to Address Inequity

Joe Berra, lawyer for the Texas Civil Rights Project. The TCRP is asking Austin ISD to conduct a self-assessment of equity among campuses districtwide.
Credit Kate McGee, KUT News

The Texas Civil Rights Project wants the Austin Independent School District to conduct a self-assessment of equity among campuses. If not, the group says it will file a complaint with the federal government which could result in a civil rights investigation of the district.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released a letter to school districts in the fall. It highlighted disparities in educational resources in public schools nationwide and suggested ways to make sure districts are providing all students equal access to resources. The letter suggested a self-assessment and provided ways for school districts to implement one.

“It’s not an issue of laying blame," said Joe Berra, lawyer with the TCRP. "It’s just an issue of saying, ‘Let’s see where we are now. Let’s make a conscious effort to address them.’”

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Austin ISD
7:52 am
Wed January 7, 2015

Austin School Board Says Good-Bye to Four Trustees; Welcomes Four Others

The newly inducted Austin School Board and interim Superintendent Paul Cruz.
Kate McGee, KUT News

The Austin School Board bid farewell to four members last night and welcomed their successors. Most of the night was filled with thanks to those leaving and advice for the incoming members.

Trustees gave short speeches about their departing colleagues, Cheryl Bradley, Lori Moya, Vincent Torres and Tamala Barksdale, while the outgoing trustees offered advice to their successors.

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Austin
4:25 pm
Mon January 5, 2015

StoryCorps MobileBooth Returns to Austin

The StoryCorps MobileBooth will be in Austin for the next month, recording stories from Central Texans. It's the third time StoryCorps has visited Austin.
Credit Kate McGee, KUT News

StoryCorps is back in Austin, recording stories of Central Texans as part of its cross-country tour. It's the non-profit's third visit to Austin.

The process is simple: make a reservation and show up at the MobileBooth with someone you know and care about. Inside the Airstream trailer, you both sit at a small, diner-like booth and have a conversation or ask each other questions. 

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Austin ISD
9:05 am
Mon January 5, 2015

Austin Students Spend A Day in Wheelchair To Raise Money for School Accessibility (Update)

Lily Harris and Carmen Larkin wheel to their next class as they particpate in the Mr. Maroo Wheelchair Challenge. For two weeks Austin High School students and staff can challenge themselves and each other to spend one day in a wheelchair.
Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

UPDATE: Through the All Access challenge, Archer Hadley raised over $82,000 to go towards automatic doors for Austin High School, doubling his initial goal.

Original post (Oct. 28, 2014): An Austin High School senior with cerebral palsy is inviting students and staff at Austin High to challenge themselves, and each other, to spend one school day in a wheelchair. The goal is to raise enough money to install five automatic door openers at the school. 

Inspired by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, senior Archer Hadley created the challenge in which each participant is nominated and pays $20. If you deny the challenge, that’ll also cost you $20. It lasts for the next two weeks, and Austin High students and staff can challenge anyone to participate.

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Austin ISD
8:00 am
Mon December 29, 2014

Meet the New Austin School Board Trustees

The Austin School Board will have four new trustees in January. Many of the districts have been represented by the same person for more than a decade.
Photo by KUT News

Early next year, the Austin School Board will swear in four new trustees. Most of the trustees are replacing school board members who have served on the board for more than a decade. The new trustees are diverse group who represent the diverse student body in Austin ISD: an African American, Hispanic and two women.  Here's a brief summary of each of the new trustees:

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Gender Divide
2:44 pm
Mon December 22, 2014

Q&A: The Pros and Cons of Single Sex Education

UT Austin Professor Rebecca Bigler studies gender stereotyping and single sex education. She argues single sex education does not improve academic performance.
Credit UT Austin

This story is part of an occasional series from KUT called Gender Divide, which will tell stories about the communities in Austin ISD's new single-sex middle schools, while also exploring the debate over single-sex education.

Are there benefits to single sex education? 

It's one of the major questions educators and parents are asking as more public schools nationwide create single sex campuses or single sex classrooms on campus. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are 850 public single sex schools across the country. 

UT Professor Rebecca Bigler is one person who says single sex education doesn't benefit students academically, or in any way. 

Bigler studies gender stereotyping and social cognition in children. She also wrote a paper in 2011 about single sex education at the Ann Richard's School for Young Women Leaders, the first single sex school in the Austin Independent School District. The study argues single sex education doesn't affect academic performance, and increases gender stereotyping.

As part of KUT's series on single sex education called Gender Divide, KUT's Kate McGee spoke with Bigler about the national debate over single sex education:

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Austin ISD
10:39 pm
Tue December 16, 2014

Here are the Austin School Board Election Runoff Results

There are three Austin School Board seats up for grabs in the run off election.
Photo by KUT News

Update (10:37): With 100 percent of the Austin ISD precincts reporting, Kendall Pace is officially the winner in the AISD School Board At-large District Nine race. Ted Gordon won in District One with 56 percent of the vote and Paul Saldana won in District Six with 53 percent of the vote.

Update(10:05 p.m.): With 92 percent of the Austin ISD precincts reporting, Kendall Pace continues to have a healthy lead over Hillary Procknow in the at-large District Nine race for Austin School Board. 

In District One, Ted Gordon continues to inch ahead of David Thompson. As of the last report, Gordon has 55 percent compared to Thompson's 44 percent. But voter turnout was very low in that district, with fewer than 6,000 people voting. 

In District Six, the race is even closer between Paul Saldana and Kate Mason-Murphy. However, Saldana continues to inch ahead of Mason-Murphy with 53 percent of the vote. That race saw low voter turnout, too. 

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Austin ISD
10:42 pm
Mon December 15, 2014

Paul Cruz Named Finalist for Austin ISD Superintendent

At a community forum this weekend, Cruz said improving relationships with neighborhoods and education groups is his first priority.
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

Update: The Austin School Board has unanimously named interim Superintendent Paul Cruz as the sole finalist for the position, the last step before offering him a formal contract. The vote was more of a formality—Cruz was the only candidate after two others dropped out.

"I want to say loud and clear, it's not just that Dr. Cruz is the last man standing, but I believe he is absolutely the best person for the job," says School Board Vice President Gina Hinojosa.

Board members publicly said Cruz was the most qualified person for the job. Plus, the community voiced its support for Cruz, too. Everyone from the teacher’s union and minority groups to city lawmakers and the Chamber of Commerce said they supported the decision to consider Cruz for the job.

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Gender Divide
2:40 pm
Fri December 12, 2014

VIDEO: Meet the Principal of Austin ISD's First All Boys Middle School

This story is part of an occasional series from KUT called Gender Divide, which will tell stories about the communities in Austin ISD's new single-sex middle schools, while also exploring the debate over single-sex education.

When you walk into the Gus Garcia Young Men's Leadership Academy in East Austin on any given morning, the first thing you hear is the echo of young men's voices bouncing off the walls of the building's large atrium. The atrium is like the heart of the building, connecting arteries of hallways and classrooms in the seven year old campus. 

Walking those hallways, it's hard to avoid shaking hands. Young men will approach you, wearing the Gus Garcia Uniform. They introduce themselves and declare they are, "a Gus Garcia man." It's an approach and attitude Principal Sterlin McGruder has instilled in the more than 400 students since it opened its doors as a single-sex school in August. 

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Austin ISD
10:41 am
Thu December 11, 2014

Austin ISD Uses 'Hour of Code' to Demystify Coding for Female Students

Yolanda Sifuentes plays a computer game she created through the Hour of Code, a global campaign that introduces students to coding.
Credit Kate McGee/KUT

Yolanda Sifuentes is a seventh grader at Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy. At 12, she already has big dreams for her future. She says she wants to be a psychologist because she likes to help people with their problems; or she wants to be a cosmetologist because she's really into beauty; or she wants to be an engineer because she likes to build stuff. She's still choosing, she admits.

Sifuentes has always liked engineering. Last year, she was part of Garcia Middle School’s Tech Girls after-school robotics club. Now, she’s sitting in her school library writing code. 

"Like, if I'm an engineer, of course I'm going to need to learn to code and stuff," Sifuentes says clicking away at her computer.

Sadler Means is one of the AISD schools participating in a global campaign called Hour of Code, which exposes students to the basics of coding. It’s hosted by the non-profit, Code.org. Last year, 15 million students worldwide participated in Hour of Code in five days.

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Austin ISD
5:11 pm
Tue December 9, 2014

Community to Austin School Board: We Want Paul Cruz as Austin ISD Superintendent

Education Austin president Ken Zarifis at a press conference Tuesday applauding the Austin School Board's decision to open the superintendent search process up to the interim superintendent Paul Cruz.
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

Update: The Austin School Board may not officially have decided who will be hired to be the permanent superintendent, but if you attended a news conference at City Hall Tuesday afternoon, you could be forgiven for thinking some community leaders have decided otherwise.

More than a dozen education, religious, labor and community groups applauded the board’s decision to consider Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz for the position, even though the board previously said Cruz would not apply for the job when they appointed him in April. 

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Austin ISD
1:50 pm
Mon December 8, 2014

How Austin ISD is Trying to Fight Gender Stereotypes and Embrace Diverse Families

The Welcoming Schools curriculum from the Human Rights Campaign trains teachers and students about including LGBTQ students and families.
Credit WelcomingSchools.org

Kristina Kramer has taught at Blazier Elementary in Southeast Austin for ten years. But it wasn’t until she started a new program called Welcoming Schools that she realized:

“I did little things that were excluding students in my classroom," Kramer says. 

When Kramer says when she sent letters home with students, she says she'd address the letters as “'Dear Parents' instead of, 'Dear Parents and Guardians.' Or not thinking about other people who could be caregivers in a child’s home."

She brought the issue up at a school-wide meeting, too, when they wanted to send home a note to all students’ families.

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Austin ISD
11:22 am
Thu December 4, 2014

Austin ISD Interim Superintendent Now Considered For the Permanent Job

AISD Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz is now being considered for the permanent position, after the board agreed in April he could not apply.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

A recent swell of community support for Austin School District interim superintendent Paul Cruz has pushed the Austin school board to consider him for the permanent position, even though the board and Cruz initially agreed he wouldn’t apply for the job.

The school board appointed Cruz interim superintendent in April, and Board President Vincent Torres made it clear Cruz would not be considered for the job.

"In a conversation I had with Dr. Cruz, in seeing if he would be interested in accepting the position, he did indicate he wouldn't seek an application for the permanent superintendent," Torres told the board.

The goal was to appoint someone with experience within the district who could steady the ship while it searches for a new captain. But many in the AISD community say throughout the spring and summer, Cruz proved himself to be a breath of fresh air after the board's rocky relationship with former superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

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