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AISD Brings Big Change to Two Middle Schools

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT
School trustee Lori Moya leans over to say something to school board president Mark Williams during Monday night's school board meeting.

The Austin Independent School District is taking some dramatic steps in an attempt to improve educational outcomes at a couple of eastside middle schools: Pearce and Garcia.

Pearce Middle School has been a particularly challenging campus for Austin ISD. In five of the last six years, it was ranked "academically unacceptable" by the state.

Last year, AISD implemented some changes that included a greater focus on preparing for college. At last night's school board meeting, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said she wants to double-down on that model.

"We are going to allow the rising sixth and seventh grade to attend Pearce, and stick to our early college design," Carstarphen said from the dais. "But, here's the challenge, we want to make sure that that new academy gets off to the right start. So we're going to use the model that we've seen at the Ann Richards School."

The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders is a college prep academy in Austin ISD that has received high grades from the state. Meanwhile, eighth graders at Pearce would go to an academy at Reagan High School.

The Pearce plan started last year with sixth grade students who were supposed to be entering middle school staying at the elementary campuses. AISD now plans to do the same thing with Garcia Middle School.

"And that would mean that the rising sixth graders would stay at their home elementary campuses, where we do believe the support will be strong and the performance will be better," Carstarphen said.

That means sixth grade students at Jordan, Overton, Sims, and Norman would stay at their elementary schools this fall. Because of space constraints at Jordan, some of those children may be moved to Overton.

Austin school trustee Cheryl Bradley, whose District 1 covers northeast Austin, told the Superintendent that all of these solutions should include a look at the children’s social conditions.

"Some of our kids are like velcro. They come with a layer of something from their homes. They come with a layer of something from their community," Bradley said. "Some teachers are trying to pull back the layers to teach, and some are just trying to teach through the layers."

Carstarphen said she expects Pearce to be ranked academically unacceptable by the state this year. She was less sure about Garcia, but plans to make a case to the Texas Education Agency that the school should get a passing grade. The official state ratings are due out in mid-July.


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