AISD

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.

crayons
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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.

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."

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Students at Blackshear Elementary School in East Austin are learning more than just math and reading.

Some are also learning deep breathing, stretches and relaxation techniques in an afternoon yoga class. It's part of the school’s enrichment program, which offers classes in everything from gardening and cooking to song writing and penmanship.

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Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The shooting left 20 students and six adults dead. It also caused school districts and lawmakers across the country to re-examine security protocols in schools – including Texas. 

“When you talk about Sandy Hook Elementary and what happened that day – I think that a lot of people believe that it created or caused a reaction by law enforcement, first responders – that somehow changed from what we had been doing," says Austin School District Police Chief Eric Mendez.

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The charter school KIPP Austin is announcing a partnership Thursday with St. Edward’s University, in an effort to promote the charter school’s mission to prepare students for college and help them receive a degree.

The private university in South Austin will join more than 40 other colleges and universities nationwide that partner with the nonprofit charter school - including UT Austin and the University of Pennsylvania. 

The partnership comes as public school districts across the state begin implementing new state mandated high school graduation requirements. The requirements allow students to pursue a diploma that prepares them for college or a career. While charter schools like KIPP continue to focus on college, it's unclear what the new requirements that offer career or college preparation mean for low-income students at traditional public schools.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

During her State of the District address yesterday, Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen touted the rise in graduation rates among high school students in the district.

Since she began running the district in 2009, overall graduation rates have increased by eight percentage points. Graduation rates have increased in all subgroups, including Hispanics, English language learners and special education students.

National Weather Service

Update: Rain is expected to continue today through the Austin area but our chances of freezing precipitation have gone down considerably.

While sleet is still possible, forecasters don’t expect any of that frozen precipitation to accumulate.

Corey Van Pelt is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Austin/San Antonio. He says the outlook is warmer and drier as the week continues.

“It looks like by tomorrow afternoon this upper low moves through, so then we’ll get some drier weather behind it. It’ll still be cool though, Wednesday and Thursday mornings we’re expecting temperatures down in the 20's in the morning but then they warm back up into the 50's during the today. And it looks like by next weekend we’re back in the 60's, close to 70.”

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

This year, KUT News is chronicling the challenges and changes affecting Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood in a series called “Turning the Corner.”

These stories have taken on added urgency in the aftermath of Austin’s Halloween floods, where flooding directly affected many Dove Springs residents. 

Bene Jacobs’ morning routine hasn’t changed that much. She still gets up before 6 a.m., before it’s light outside.

In the darkness, at her cousin’s house in Del Valle, Bene struggles to find her way into the room where her children sleep. “Still learning all the light switches,” she whispers.

Taylor ISD

A small school district northeast of Austin is facing a football field-sized problem.

Taylor Independent School District’s athletic facilities are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Without the ADA-required access, TISD is vulnerable to lawsuits and penalties.

On Tuesday, voters in the city of Taylor rejected a bond that would have built a new all-inclusive athletics facility that would include accessibility for people who have disabilities. Now the school district faces the possibility of paying $1 million to renovate old athletics facilities that they don’t own.

Oscar Palomo, AISD

The brand new Janis Guerrero Thompson Elementary School is more than 78,000 square feet with 32 classrooms. Inside, the walls are painted bright orange and purple, and the floor is covered with colorful tiles. On Sunday, more than a hundred people came to dedicate the school to the late district employee and tour the new campus, which looks to mitigate overcrowding in Austin schools.

“Everyone’s been so excited. We’ve been working toward dedication and now it’s official, like we’ve been announced as a school," says Principal LaKesha Drinks.

KUT News

In May, Austin voters approved nearly $600 million dollars in bond propositions for capital improvements in the Austin School District.

The money is allocated for technology upgrades in the classroom and district offices, and systemic repairs to facilities on campuses across the district, among other upgrades.

Kate McGee, KUT News

The student orchestra at Mendez Middle School has 15 new musical instruments, thanks to a large donation from Fidelity Investments’ new Austin location. The company surprised orchestra students during a special assembly Wednesday with $20,000 worth of violins, violas, saxophones and other instruments.

Jeffrey Hall, the school’s orchestra director, applied for the gift last year.  For the past four years, he’s built an orchestra program that now consists of 65 sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Austin School Board approved a set of plans Monday night for 11 schools that need improvement under the Texas Education Agency’s new accountability standards.

But as it rolls out year-long plans requiring monthly TEA visits and evaluations, it awaits new changes to the standards for this academic year.

“It’s going to keep us very focused," says Paul Cruz, AISD Chief Schools Officer. "We don’t know what the performance standards are going to be, but that’s also for every school in state of Texas."

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News

Social Media sites have increasingly become a platform where teenagers turn to document their daily activities and thoughts—some which can be serious. Friends of the student who committed suicide at Lanier High School this week say he posted a note and a photo of himself with the weapon on Facebook before he committed suicide.

The student's tragic death comes as researchers from Brigham Young University have found young people with suicidal thoughts or behaviors may be using things like Twitter or Facebook to cry for help.

Classes resumed today at Lanier High School, after a student fatally shot himself there yesterday afternoon. More than 25 counselors were at the school for students and teachers still trying to cope with what happened.

All schools in Texas must have suicide prevention plans to help teachers and faculty identify and address suicidal behavior, says Karen Ranus of the Austin Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. These signs include changes in behavior, talking about death or a lack of motivation. But, she says, some people are afraid to address these issues openly.

KUT News

During the school day, teachers and administrators are in charge of student behavior on school property. But as the number of students with smart phones and on social media increases, so does the number of interactions between students beyond the schoolyard – which in some cases leads to cyberbullying.

In the Austin School District, teachers and faculty try to combat cyberbullying, while also educating students about their own digital footprint.

“We will see cases that involve students going back and forth: name calling, talking about other students," says Beverly Reeves, the AISD ombudsman who deals with cyber-bullying conflicts. This past legislative session, lawmakers allowed school districts to get involved in conflicts on social media when the result trickles back into the classroom.

Courtesy of Robbi Cooper

When a student is diagnosed with dyslexia in Texas, state law requires school districts to provide accommodations and services to help that student.  But getting those services depends entirely on a whether a school district recognizes the student’s learning disability – which affects their ability to read, write or spell. And some parents say sometimes it’s hard to get services they need.

Jenna Macaroni http://instagram.com/p/fMOLxAjT29/

When you were in high school, wouldn’t you have loved to have a cool band play in your gym? I remember trying to get the band Karp to play my high school in the 1990s, but the teacher who sponsored the student council balked once he heard what they sound like. Instead, they spent the money on a Top 40 video dance party with fog machines. 

But last night, Anderson High School in Austin ISD did what my high school could never do: They hosted a secret show for the French dance-rockers Phoenix. (While considerably more accessible than any post-hardcore band, it's a remarkable achievement nonetheless.)

“Seriously how the hell does Anderson book Phoenix to play a gig at their school and Pflugerville gets Granger Smith #injustice,” tweeted one envious teen.

“Phoenix at Anderson? Lucky bastards,” said another.

Indeed. So, how did it happen?

Marathon Kids
Kate McGee, KUT News

Thousands of elementary students in Central Texas have started a five-month mission to run a marathon – although not all at once.

It’s part of the annual program Marathon Kids. Over the weekend, students gathered on the University of Texas campus to log the first of many laps between now and February.

When Marathon Kids started more than 15 years ago, 2,000 Austin students joined. This year, more than 30,000 Austin ISD students are participating, not including students from nearby districts and private schools. Kids keep track of their runs until they add up to an entire marathon.

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