austin isd

Andrew Weber/KUT News

Most students in the Austin Independent School District returning to school today are minorities, but many of those students won’t see a minority teacher in front of the classroom. State data show there's a large diversity gap between teachers and students in all Austin high schools and middle schools.

Every single Austin middle and high school has more white teachers than teachers of any other ethnicity. Individually, schools have teaching staffs that are anywhere from 46 to 87 percent white. Last year, 25 percent of the district's middle and high school students were white. 

Kate McGee

A group of elementary school students sit on the floor of a classroom at Sunset Valley Elementary. They’re connecting plastic pieces to build orange ramps and pushing tiny race cars down them. The goal is to see if the car can make it all the way around the loop. 

"One, two, three," says one student before letting go of the race car. It doesn't make it.

"Oh! So close!" they yell. 

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

Victoria Hernandez and her son Jayden wake up at 5 a.m. each day for Jayden’s pre-kindergarten class at Travis Heights Elementary School. They get ready at their apartment complex on Stassney Lane, four miles away from Travis Heights. Then, they walk to the bus stop to wait for the number one bus.

By the time they embark, it’s about 6:30 in the morning — the sun has just started to rise.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

Fourteen-year-old Karyme* has missed 14 days of eighth grade this school year. Her school, part of the Manor Independent School District, has taken her and her mother to court.

Now she and her mother stand in an Austin courtroom facing the presiding judge, Hon. Yvonne Williams.

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Kate McGee take on education.

Jennifer Mullins is sitting in her office at Eastside Memorial High School when a staff member comes in and asks for a stress ball. There’s a student outside that needs help. Mullins walks out the door and immediately takes control. 

"Hey bud, hey! Stress ball! Just breathe," Mullins says.  The student was having a negative reaction to a medication.

Mullins is one of two school counselors at Eastside Memorial High School who handles both emotional and academic support. Every student there is labeled at-risk. Mullins says she spends half her time dealing with students' needs outside the classroom.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

Enrollment at Travis Heights Elementary School has dropped by seventy students this year — about 13 percent of the student population. 

It's a uniquely diverse school in an increasingly economically segregated Austin Independent School District. 

The median home price in the neighborhood is $689,000, according to the Austin Board of Realtors. But last year, 76 percent of the students who attended Travis Heights were considered economically disadvantaged. 

As the school celebrates its 75th anniversary Saturday, parents, staff and alumni must also consider its future. As affordable housing complexes scattered around the neighborhood become more expensive, more low-income families are leaving Travis Heights for cheaper housing.

It all started with a high school assembly on the first day back from winter break. The guest speaker was the founder of an Austin-based company with a positive message about following your dreams. But what was supposed to be a motivational speech turned into a war of words between high school students and staff and Kash Shaikh, the founder of #BeSomebody, that played out on blogs and social media.

KUT News

An Austin school board discussion about equity between the district’s campuses grew tense this week when the conversation between two school board members turned to diversity at the district’s nationally recognized high school, Liberal Arts and Science Academy. LASA is a magnet program located on the upper floors of LBJ High School, which mostly educates minority students.

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.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

Dr. Paul Cruz finally dropped the "interim" from his superintendent title last night when the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees officially approved his contract through 2017.

Cruz stepped in as interim superintendent last April when Dr. Meria Castarphen left for Atlanta Public Schools.

Cruz's three-year contract with the district will have him earning $286,000 a year as superintendent, leading the district's 85,000 students and 12,000 staff members.

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.

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.

ThoseGuys119/flickr

You might think every company with a large vehicle fleet would be happy about the low gas prices we’re seeing right now. But when it comes to gas prices, things are never that simple.

One of the largest vehicle fleets in Austin belongs to the Austin Independent School District. AISD's Transportation Director Kris Hafezi oversees more than 1,000 vehicles. About half run on diesel, and about half run on gas. So fluctuating gas prices used to make him nervous – but not anymore. "[AISD] has a fixed fuel contract with our provider."

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.

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. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

Dr. Paul Cruz is the only finalist for the superintendent position with Austin Independent School District. Tuesday night's Civic Summit, hosted by KLRU, will give the audience – students, teachers, and other community members – the opportunity to ask Cruz questions in a town hall-style meeting.

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.’”

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.

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:

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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