As the school year starts anew for Texas public schools, the Austin Independent School District is preparing for a year of changes.
In November, as many as five new school board members will be elected, a replacement superintendent will be hired in the wake of Meria Carstarphen’s departure and the district could face more, or less, funding after the legislature convenes in January.
The district’s interim superintendent Paul Cruz spoke with KUT about the difficulties facing Austin students, parents and educators as bells ring in the new academic year.
On the four new incoming Austin School Board members:
“It’s true, there will be newness there, but I think that the good news – along with the newness and new energy and new thinking – we have individuals that have been in the school system and have proven results. That strong base is here today, and they’re going to be here tomorrow."
On adjusting school boundaries:
“I don’t know that we can…because that impacts families directly. I’m attending one school now, and I might have a sibling or another child who’s going to attend a different school. So that’s very real. That is something that we don’t take lightly. We have identified schools that are either overcrowded or under-enrolled and we’re meeting with the campus advisory council for every single school that’s been identified. And we’re having the conversations at the school-level with the communities who are most impacted. So we’re not going to set one strategy and say, ‘Well, now it’s going to be a boundary issue,’ or ‘Now, it’s going to be new program issue.’ Really we’re taking the complexity of the issues at that school and we’re going to design a strategy around that.”
On single-sex schools:
"The reality is, at Pearce and Garcia [Middle Schools], we needed to develop a new academic design for the schools. And, it is true that the schools over time had not been performing where they needed to be. So we did need something significant to address the performance of those schools, and that’s where this opportunity comes up. That’s opportunity for students who live in the assignment area, but also students who live outside the assignment area. I do think it provides much more opportunities for many families. And families do choose a single-gender school. We have the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. We have Garza Independence High School. What I think is important here is that in Austin ISD – with 86,000 students and with the diversity that we have in our school system – is that we offer different options for parents and for students."
On low minority graduation rates:
"There can be many factors, and they’re also situational to every individual student, but one is about reading on grade level – for students to have a strong grasp of reading, of literacy, and be able to communicate. I think that is really important for every youngster. I think another factor would be socialization – that a student feels that they’re coming into a school where somebody knows them [and] that somebody’s going to take care of them."