Meet the New Austin School Board Trustees
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:
District One: Edmund T. Gordon
Edmund T. Gordon is at the University of Texas, teaching classes and leading the African and African Diaspora Studies Department. He started his career as a Head Start teaching assistant—and comes from a family of educators. His wife is a bilingual teacher on the East side, too.
Gordon is African American—and was endorsed by outgoing trustee Cheryl Bradley because she believes an African American should represent that district. There are about 8,000 African American students in the school district. Most of them live in District One. Gordon says his focus is improving education for East Austin students.
"I am dedicated to decreasing the achievement gap between children in District One and the rest of the district," Gordon says. "But also deciding to make District One schools attractive to all parents.”
Gordon has also served on various AISD committees concerning African American students and their families. He has a doctorate from Stanford University.
District Four: Julie Cowan:
Julie Cowan knows the halls of many Northwest Austin schools well. She’s served as PTA president in three of them and on the school’s Campus Advisory Committees. But she’s also familiar with the halls of the Texas capital. She was a legislative aide in the 1980s and during the last session. Cowan says the district needs to work with lawmakers to improve the district’s financial situation.
"We haven’t been very aggressing going and asking for our needs," Cowan says. "Some school boards across the state of Texas actually hire lobbyists. We hire a legislative consultant to guide us. Little measures might get us through for the next couple years if the legislature decides not to do anything. But if we don’t ask we’ll never know."
Cowan also wants the district to re-evaluate its standardized testing structure. She wants to decrease the emphasis and number of tests for elementary students.
But she also says one of the board's biggest challenges is to regain the community's trust.
"Currently our district and board faces a PR challenge that is resulting in families choosing to leave our schools for other educational options and some taxpayers doubting the necessity of budget decisions," Cowan says on her campaign website.
District Six: Paul Saldana:
Paul Saldana is no stranger to local Austin politics. He spent more than 20 years in local government and was the Chief of Staff for former Austin Mayor, Gus Garcia. Now, he runs his own public relations firm in Austin.
During the campaign, Saldana touted his experience on various social justice issues. During a candidate forum, Saldana said he hopes to foster relationships between the city and the school district.
"We need to be doing more joint use facilities and programs," Saldana says. "The city was gracious enough to help us with our parent support funding to the tune of $2 million. We need to get creative and innovative to make sure we're protecting the interest of the taxpayer, but at the same time we're getting our taxpayer the same return in investment."
Saldana grew up in East Austin and attended school during Austin ISD’s desegregation efforts. He attended 10 different Austin public schools before graduating from Lanier High School.
At-Large District Nine: Kendall Pace:
Pace got her Bachelors of Business Administration from UT Austin and worked as a financial analyst. She worked in Treasury finance at Dell and then was director of grant operations at the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. As the state’s school finance system places an extra burden on Austin ISD’s budget, Pace is hoping to provide some guidance.
“You need someone who is going to go deep, who’s going to go detail," Pace says. [Someone] who’s going to be worth looking at code and contracts, someone who understands the budget and asks the tough questions and I'm willing to do that."
Pace planned to go back to school to become a high school teacher, but opened a small business with her husband instead. She has volunteered at her three son’s schools in the district for the past decade. For the past year, Pace served on the Kealing Middle School Campus Advisory Council and on the AISD District Advisory Council.