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. 

Pages

Education
5:32 pm
Wed February 5, 2014

Round Rock ISD Apologizes, Backs Out of Cell Tower at Elementary School

Construction of the cell phone tower at Pond Springs Elementary School in Round Rock. School officals say they're going to try to get out of the contract to build a cell phone tower on campus after parents complained.
Dana Vasagam

The Round Rock Independent School District is backing away from an agreement with cell phone provider AT&T after parents and community members raised concerns about the construction of a cell phone tower on an elementary school campus.

According to a letter sent to parents, the district agreed to lease land to AT&T to build the tower at Pond Springs Elementary School, but some parents say Monday's letter was the first time they had heard of the agreement.

Read more
AISD
9:27 am
Wed February 5, 2014

Nonprofit Says Austin Schools Don't Address Inequality Among Students

The Texas Civil Rights Project wants AISD to start an independent Equity Foundation to help direct private money to schools in low income neighborhoods
KUT News

A nonprofit legal foundation says the Austin Independent School District isn’t addressing education inequalities between high and low-income students. 

The Texas Civil Rights Project released an updated report Tuesday on equal opportunity in the district. It's urging the district to start an independent equity foundation, which would direct private money to schools in low-income neighborhoods and create a level playing field between students regardless of their parents' income. The foundation would promote equal access to things like books and quality teachers and how schools spend their money.

Read more
Education
11:05 am
Tue February 4, 2014

In Texas, Fewer Tests Mean Less Time for Teaching Social Studies

State Board of Education member Pat Hardy, photographed in 2011. She says social studies courses are treated like a "redheaded stepchild" by Texas education officials.
Credit Daniel Reese for KUT News

  The reduction in social studies gradation requirements has disappointed many social studies advocates in the state, but it hasn't surprised them. They say the subject often gets pushed aside when it comes to classroom instruction time, especially with an increased emphasis in high-stakes testing.

Unlike math, science and reading, students aren't tested in social studies until eighth grade. Education advocates say lack of social studies standardized tests means less instructional time for the subject.

“It hasn’t been tested," says Pat Hardy, State Board of Education member. "It’s been treated like the redheaded stepchild, and at the end of the day – literally at the end of the day – they’ll say, 'well, you can teach social studies.' Well, how good do you think that is?”

Read more
State Board of Education
12:19 pm
Fri January 31, 2014

Texas Education Board Approves New High School Grad Requirements

The State Board of Education approved new graduation requirements that don't require all students to talk Algebra II
John Walker, Flickr

The State Board of Education officially adopted new state high school graduation requirements this morning. The vote was 14 to one in support of the changes. El Paso Democrat Martha Dominguez voted against it.

Last year, lawmakers got rid of the previous graduation plan which required students to take four math, science, English and social studies courses.

Under the new plan, all students are required to take four years of  English and at least three years of math, science and social studies. Students will then have to choose one of five paths to graduation, known as endorsements. 

Read more
Education
7:48 am
Fri January 31, 2014

Fewer Social Studies Requirements for Texas Students Worry Advocates

Next year, high school students will only have to take three years of social studies to graduate instead of four, which has advocates concerned about the role of social studies in an increasingly global society.
Ryan Stanton, Flickr

The State Board of Education will make its final decision today on new high school graduation requirements. The changes come after state lawmakers passed a bill last year that reduces the number of required courses to graduate. Among the changes: students only have to take three social studies classes to graduate instead of four.

In the early 1990s, Texas became the first state to require students to take four social studies classes to graduate. The change back to three has some worried that Texas students won’t be as prepared for an increasingly global society.

Read more
Weather
4:55 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

Delays & Closures Mount as Winter Weather Tangles Austin Traffic (Update)

National Weather Service

Update: Temperatures went up above freezing this afternoon, giving the roads a chance to thaw out and dry up. Skies have cleared, setting us up for another cold night with a hard freeze, but with no precipitation in the forecast. 

Earlier: UT Austin has announced it will remain closed the rest of the day.

"Student and employee safety is our top concern and we understand the frustration that many on the Forty Acres feel about today’s weather-related delays," UT said in a statement published on its Tumblr page. "We’re very sorry for any trouble, inconvenience or problems that our students and employees faced related to our decisions."

Read on for more information on closures and delays.

Previously: Freezing rain began falling on the Austin area this morning after local school and government officials had announced their initial decisions about whether to operate today and when. In some cases, people already had set out on the roads for work and/or school when officials reconsidered earlier decisions and announced closures and delays.

Austin Police reported responding to 80 crashes between 5:00 and 7:30 A.M. By later in the morning, that number had grown to 214 crashes – about 40 per hour, according to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. At last check, that number had rose to 260.

Read more
Weather
4:54 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

School Districts, UT Apologize as Late Weather Cancellations Are Criticized

An accident hampers the Mopac entrance in north Austin. Police responded to 274 collisions today.
Matt Largey, KUT News

A strong blast of wintry weather wasn’t the only irritant for many Austinites today: many were inconvenienced and frustrated by changing decisions from local officials on whether to open and when.

It seems the weather got unexpectedly worse at about the worst possible time: when many had already set on the roads. Adding to traffic were entities including the University of Texas and City of Austin, which did not initially alter their schedules.

Read more
Police
4:29 pm
Sat January 25, 2014

No Injuries in Officer-Involved Shooting in North Austin

An Austin Police officer is on paid administrative leave after using force against a suspect. There were no injuries and the suspect is in custody.
Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Austin police are investigating an officer-involved shooting that occurred at 1:42 p.m. Saturday near Interstate 35 and Rundberg Lane.

According to Police Chief Art Acevedo, there were no injuries and the suspect is in custody.

The shooting occurred when a police officer responded to a car accident at a Shell gas station. The suspect, whose name has not yet been released, had struck another vehicle and was allegedly leaving the scene. When the officer tried to flag the suspect down, he did not stop and drove the vehicle toward the officer. The officer, whose name has also not yet been released, got out of the way. When the suspect stopped again, the officer told him to get out of the car, but he again drove the car toward the officer. That's when the officer fired several rounds at the car.

Read more
Turning the Corner
9:40 am
Fri January 24, 2014

How Music Kept This Dove Springs Student in School

Isay Medrano's absences to care for his ill mother put his school orchestra playing into jeopardy.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

  Chronic absenteeism is a common problem among low-income schools; Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood is no exception. The neighborhood has the largest concentration of high absenteeism students in the city – and teachers say there are some students who miss up to 40 days of school in one semester.

But many students aren’t skipping class to avoid schoolwork. Some lack transportation; others are dealing with health issues. Still, other have responsibilities like raising siblings or working to support their families.

Isay Medrano is one of those students.

Read more
UT Austin
12:01 am
Fri January 24, 2014

UT Austin Receives $60 Million Gift for Engineering, Business Schools

John Mulva and his wife, Miriam. The couple donated $60M to the University of Texas at Austin for its engineering and business buildings.

The University of Texas at Austin has received a $60 million gift from John and Miriam Mulva, one of the largest gifts in the school’s history. The donation will go toward two major building projects, including the school’s proposed Engineering Education and Research Center.

According to UT Austin President Bill Powers, $20 million will go toward the new Engineering Education and Research Center, while the other $40 million will go toward renovations of two buildings in the McCombs School of Business, pending project approval by the Board of Regents. The entire sum of money will be paid at a rate of three million over the next 20 years. 

UT President Powers says the gift is especially important for the Engineering Center, since it will help the university raise $105 million from private donors to pay for construction of the $310 million Engineering Center.

Read more
Education
12:39 pm
Wed January 22, 2014

Only 15 Percent Pass English I Writing in Latest STAAR Tests

A sample English I writing question, released from the 2011 STAAR test.
Texas Education Agency

The English I writing exam is giving Texas students trouble.

According to the Texas Education Agency, only 15 percent of students who took the writing exam in December – part of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR test – passed. And most of those students were taking it for the second time.

Read more
School Finance
4:48 pm
Tue January 21, 2014

Texas Judge Reopens School Finance Trial (Update)

Judge John Dietz (right) speaking with lawyers on both sides of the school finance trial, which reopened Tuesday with opening arguments. The trial will see if actions during the 2013 legislature should change the judge's initial ruling.
Kate McGee, KUT News

Update: Travis County District Judge John Dietz heard opening arguments today in the second round of Texas' school finance trial. The two sides are arguing over whether actions taken by the legislature last year change the judge’s preliminary ruling that the state’s public education finance system is unconstitutional.

When the legislature reconvened last year, it added back $3.4 billion for public education after it cut $5.4 billion during the 2011 session. Lawmakers reduced the number of required standardized tests for graduation from 15 to five.

At issue: were those changes enough to create a fair and equitable system to finance public education and allow schools and students to meet the state standards?

Read more
AISD
6:00 am
Mon January 20, 2014

Austin School District Brings Diversity to District Leadership

Meria Carstarphen, Pauline Dow and Nicole Conley, the three female members of the Superintendent's senior cabinet. Carstarphen and Conley are the first female CEO and CFO in AISD's history.
KUT News

When Meria Carstarphen became superintendent of the Austin Independent School District, she became the first female Superintendent in the district’s history.

During her tenure, there have been more women in the superintendent’s senior cabinet than ever before, including female Chief Financial Officer, Nicole Conley and Chief Academics Officer, Pauline Dow.  

Read more
AISD
8:40 am
Fri January 17, 2014

Enrollment Dip Worries Some Teachers, Parents at East Austin Public Schools

Luke Muszkiewicz with his daughters, Margot (left) and Hannah. Muszkiewicz and his wife transferred his daughters to Metz Elementary, a school that has seen declining enrollment over the last decade.
Kate McGee, KUT News

Enrollment at many East Austin schools has been declining in recent years. This week, demographers predict those neighborhoods will continue to see a decline in children for the next five to ten years.

Some schools are projected to see enrollment drop to under 75 percent of capacity, including Metz elementary school in the Holly neighborhood just off East Cesar Chavez. Student enrollment there has declined by more than 100 students — or about 22 percent — in the past decade, which worries parents and teachers who are watching the neighborhood change around them. 

“Most of those families who can afford to live here in and around Metz, the demographers tell us are middle and high income families who tend to not have kids or don’t have kids young enough to attend elementary school," Metz Elementary parent Luke Muszkiewicz says.

Read more
Education
10:22 am
Tue January 14, 2014

As Austin Grows, Enrollment May Plateau in Some AISD Schools

AISD's Board of Trustees discussed the possibility of a stasis in the number of students attending Austin schools in the next 10 years.
Photo by KUT News

As more people are expected to continue to move to the Austin area, the Austin Independent School District predicts enrollment in city schools to stay relatively flat over the next ten years. At an AISD school board meeting last night, board members suggested by the year 2023, the Austin school district is predicted to have about 350 fewer students than it does right now.

In a district of 86,000 students, that doesn’t seem like much. But Beth Wilson with the district’s Planning Services department says it reflects a major trend in Austin.

Read more
AISD
7:41 am
Mon January 13, 2014

What You Need to Know About the Austin Independent School District's Transfer Policy

Keeping schools diverse is one reason AISD approves in-district school transfers.
flickr.com/laffy4k

Austin parents have until the Jan. 31 to request to transfer their child to another school in the district next fall. Around ten percent of Austin ISD students transferred between schools in the 2012-2013 school year. In recent years, it’s become a contentious topic as the district must balance overcrowded and under-enrolled schools, while also providing academic options to students within the district.

There are essentially four ways for students to transfer to different schools in the district according to Vincent Torres, the Austin School Board President.

Read more
2014 Governor's Race
8:44 am
Fri January 10, 2014

Education Funding to Play Key Role in Texas Governor's Race

State Senator Wendy Davis, the presumed Democratic nominee for Texas Governor and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the presumed GOP nominee.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera & Bob Daemmrich via Texas Tribune

The first time State Senator Wendy Davis made waves as a Texas lawmaker was during the 2011 legislative session when she filibustered a budget that cut four billion dollars in funding for public schools.

“It’s the first time that we’ve ever done this in state history and the funding of public education and it’s a cut that I simply cannot stand for," Davis said during that filibuster.

But stand she did, pushing the 2011 legislature into a special session, where the budget plan were eventually approved anyway with the cuts included.

Read more
Education
9:02 am
Thu January 9, 2014

Manor School Focuses on Relationships to Boost Attendance

Manor ISD boasts some of the best attendance in the country, placing nationally in the Get Schooled initiative in Fall 2013.
Courtesy of Manor ISD

A high school in the Manor Independent School District is being honored for winning a nationwide attendance challenge in the fall through the Get Schooled program and the E3 Alliance.  The school district has been putting more attention on improving student attendance rates, but it's especially excited about this particular school’s success in that area.

Manor Excel Academy is a small school with two buildings and about 124 students. Some are as old as 21. It’s what’s called an accelerated diploma high school that helps at-risk students. Students may be behind in credits or failing standardized tests when they enter the school. They could qualify for free or reduced lunch and, at the same time, be raising children or working to make ends meet. 

“It's a school of opportunity," says Kevin Brackmeyer, Manor ISD superintendent."The school allows students to have a second chance."

Read more
Education
9:34 am
Tue January 7, 2014

Leander ISD Using 'Sensory Gardens' to Teach Disabled Students

Leander ISD students with special needs can learn to grow herbs, fruits, flowers and vegetables in sensory gardens.
flickr.com/dklimke

Some elementary schools in the Leander School District are using gardens to teach life skills to students with disabilities by using their five senses.

For students with some physical or developmental disabilities, even the simplest tasks can be difficult. That makes it hard to learn reading and writing—as well as life skills, like knowing their address or phone number, how to interact with other people and personal responsibility.

In the garden, students can use their senses to learn about plant life and where food comes from, as well as help students with physical development and coordination. The students can touch the dirt and the leaves, smell the herbs, water the plants and watch them grow.

Read more
Education
10:02 am
Fri January 3, 2014

How Two Austin Principals Are Improving Test Scores at Low Income Schools

Shannan Muskopf/Texas Tribune

On the outside, Blackshear Elementary and Graham Elementary schools in Austin don’t have a lot in common. Blackshear has around 230 students, while Graham has nearly four times than that.  In East Austin, Blackshear’s building was built more than a hundred years ago. Graham Elementary—in the North Central part of the city—has a more 1970's architectural look.

But inside, the two schools -- with more than 90 percent economically disadvantaged students -- are run almost identically using a new philosophy called the New Three R's.

Since the late 1700’s, the Three R’s of learning have commonly been known as reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Graham Elementary Principal Blaine Helwig says the "New Three R’s” stand for the "Right people," the "Right systems" and the "Right resources."

Read more

Pages