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Let's Break Down AISD Board President Kendall Pace's Controversial Texts

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
The union that represents AISD employees is calling for School Board President Kendall Pace to step down after controversial texts she sent surfaced.

Education Austin, the union for Austin ISD's employees, called for the resignation of School Board President Kendall Paceafter inflammatory texts she sent to another board member surfaced.

The texts to Julie Cowan include name calling and harsh language toward others in Austin's education community, which was one reason the union called for her resignation. But there's a lot in the texts that require context to understand.

We've annotated the messages to help explain what Pace was talking about.

"Of course we don't need the Transformation Zone grant, but ..."

This exchange is about an initiative the district is considering that would allow a group of underperforming schools to create their own rules of operation. Principals could defy typical AISD protocol for curriculum, systems, budgets and other processes to do what they think will help improve academics. Other school districts around the country have used these so-called transformation zones.

The district received $446,681 from the state to plan for a transformation zone. Now, the board is poised to vote on approving the plan and seeking additional money from the state to implement it.

Pace's texts were about this new system. If the zone is created, AISD wants a board other than the Board of Trustees to oversee it.

That leads us to the next part of the text ...

"Ted, Betty and I ALL want Betty to run this from the inside and preferable Blaine to be the 'outside schools operator' that this newly created board would hire."

Pace says Betty and Blaine “need to run” this transformation zone. She's likely referring to Betty Jenkins, a former principal at Blackshear Elementary, and Blaine Helwig, a former principal at Graham Elementary. A few years ago the two received a lot of attention for dramatically improving test scores at the two schools, which had struggled academically.

The system Helwig created that was used at the two schools was called “The New 3 Rs.” It focused on creating the “right” systems, the “right” resources and the “right” people to help kids succeed.

Despite the success at the two schools, a counselor said the program caused harmful psychological effects on young students. The district and Texas Child Protective Services opened an investigation, but found nothing to support the claim.

Helwig and Jenkins own a consulting firm that helps schools implement the 3 Rs system.

"2) it will only get approved if we set up a real charter-like (i.e. one with the balls to ignore the special interest groups and crazy ignorant community activists and poverty pimps)"

Pace said that for the transformation zone to thrive, it needs to be run like a strict charter that ignores “the special interest groups and crazy ignorant community activists and poverty pimps.”

A “poverty pimp” is a phrase that refers to someone who advocates for a minority or disadvantaged group, but benefits politically or financially from that work. Essentially the phrase suggests that this person wants to keep people in poverty for their own gain.

She seems to be referring to local organizations that work with the school district to help low-income schools. Pace specifically calls out Allen Weeks, the head of Austin Voices for Education and Youth. This organization provides programs for students and families at AISD schools.

"Harmony will be kicking ass soon."

Pace is likely talking about Harmony Public Schools, a system of charter schools around Texas. Harmony touts the 3Rs system as part of its schools' success.

"I keep mentioned 'what is your plan to close gaps or fix the AA gap' and we get NO coherent answer other than the '6 Cs'!"

Pace is referencing the African-American achievement gap, something the board and district have been trying to focus on this school year. The achievement gap refers to the divide in test scores between black students and their peers in the district. For years, black students have underperformed on the statewide assessment, or STAAR test.

The 6 C's are what the district calls its “power skills”: collaboration, communication, connection, cultural proficiency, creativity and critical thinking.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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