Austin ISD

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has been named as the sole finalist for the superintendent job in Atlanta, Georgia.

She was chosen from a list of four candidates for the position.

Carstarphen came to Austin ISD in 2009. The district has faced significant challenges during her tenure, including $60 million in funding cuts after the 2011 Legislative session.

In a statement today, Carstarphen said Austin had risen to meet those challenges.

Photo by Nathan Bernier/KUT News

Update:  The Austin School Board voted to reinstate three-year contracts for teachers and principals in a five to four vote Monday night. At the same meeting, school district officials also proposed to to close a projected $32 million budget gap for Fiscal Year 2015. 

The decision to move to three-year contracts comes after the school district and teacher's union, Education Austin, came to an impasse over the issue last month. Austin ISD went from three to one year contracts in 2011, when the state legislature cut billions in public education funding, also forcing the district to lay off more than 1,000 employees.

Jon Shapley for KUT News

This article is part of KUT's year-long series called Turning the Corner, which takes a look at Austin's Dove Springs neighborhood. For decades, the neighborhood has had a negative reputation. Now, many community members are trying to change the perception of the 78744 zip code. Listen to those stories here.

In low-income neighborhoods around Austin, 87 percent of children entering kindergarten are considered unprepared for school, which means many of them lack basic literacy skills. At Mendez Middle School in Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood, that struggle is obvious. Last year, less than half of Mendez sixth graders passed the state standardized test for reading. 

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Many area school kids are in class today despite the Presidents' Day holiday. They’re making up for a day missed due to winter weather.

City of Austin Transportation crews are working to manually re-program flashing school zone lights warning drivers to slow down. But only about one-sixth were ready before the start of school this morning.

“If a driver comes up to a school zone and they know that the school is in session and the flasher aren’t going, they should use that same level of caution, drive slower and be aware of students in the area," city spokesperson Samantha Park said.

Roy Varney / KUT

Austin public school students in fourth and eighth grade scored higher in math and reading than students in other large cities, according to results from a new government study released Wednesday. 

The report looks at results from a national standardized test given to 21 urban school districts with populations of 250,000 people or more. It’s part of the National Center for Education Statistics' National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

While the results are positive, the scores remained relatively flat from 2011 –  the last time Austin students took the test.

KUT News

If you attended your first Austin school board meeting Monday night, you would have never guessed Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has ever received criticism from school board members, the teachers union, Education Austin, or the Austin community.

Austin School Board President Vincent Torres commended the superintendent in the board's annual evaluation, recognizing the challenges the district faces and outlining the district's achievements over the last year. He highlighted improved graduation rates, dual language programs, early childhood education, and the superintendent's ability to balance the budget in the face of continued cuts from the state.

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?

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Austin Independent School District employees will start to learn more today about adding an unmarried partner to their health insurance benefits.

The AISD board approved last night expanding benefits to people a district spokesman calls the “unmarried, committed” partners of regular, full-time AISD employees.

KUT News

Today is the first day of school for Austin ISD, and that means nearly 90,000 students filling hallways. Meria Carstarphen, AISD’s superintendent, sees the biggest challenges in a successful year as student safety, school funding, and STAAR testing.

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

For at least fifty years, the Austin Independent School District has used portable classrooms as a way to relieve overcrowding. Yesterday, KUT reported more than half of the nearly 650 portables are over 25 years old – some are more than 50 years old. Many teachers and parents say portables conditions are poor.

But what – if anything – can the school district can do about it? 

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Austin Independent School District saw minimal gains on this year’s STAAR tests compared to last year.

Reading, math, science and social studies passage rates each increased by three percentage points from the previous year. Students showed the best results in reading with 79 percent passing in all demographics – including racial minorities and the economically disadvantaged.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Austin voters rejected two out of four school bonds on Saturday. At $892 million, it was the largest proposed bond in AISD history.

We spoke with local education reporter Laura Heinauer to learn more. Click the player above to hear our conversation as it aired on KUT. 

KUT News

Update: Tomorrow is the last day to register to vote in the May election.

If you’ve moved since the last time you voted – you’ll have to register again. In Travis County, you can register in person at one of tax office locations, mail in an application – which are available at post offices and libraries, or update your information online.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Update:  Austin school district police say John Joseph Vasquez, a Blazier Elementary school teacher, was arrested Monday for alleged aggravated sexual assault and improper relationship between an educator and a student.

On April 1, the parent of a former AISD student contacted district police alleging the student had been assaulted as a first grader from January to March of 2011. District police conducted a forensic interview with the child, who did not wish to be identified. Police also conducted a short interview with the suspect. District Police Chief Eric Mendez says there may have been multiple incidences, but the investigation is still ongoing. Mendez says there is no reason to believe there are other victims. 

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Texas schools and school districts will be labeled from A to F starting next school year.

The new system will replace the current labels that range from academically unacceptable to exemplary. Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams explained his decision today to the state’s Senate Education Committee.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The American Civil Liberties Union wants information from the Austin school district about its plans to convert Pearce and Garcia middle schools into single-sex campuses.

The school board approved the controversial plan in January as part of its effort to improve educational outcomes at the two struggling campuses in northeast Austin. The plan takes effect in the 2014-2015 school year.

KUT News

A lawsuit filed today accuses the Austin school district of withholding public information on plans for Eastside Memorial High School.

AISD says it needs to find a third party to help run the troubled school to prevent the state from taking it over. Eastside has not met state academic accountability standards for nearly a decade.

But Steve Swanson, a member of the school’s campus advisory committee, says repeated open-records requests he’s submitted to the district have not turned up planning process documents for the campus. So he’s suing in Travis County District Court.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Update: The new elementary school being built in north Austin now has a name: Dr. Janis Guerrero Thompson Elementary. The Austin Independent School District Board voted last night to approve the name.

Dr. Guerrero Thompson was a native Austinite who taught high school in AISD and later worked as the district’s Executive Director for Planning and Community Relations.

KUT News

A high school on Austin’s east side is once again facing the possibility of state closure. Eastside Memorial High has received the state stamp of academically unacceptable since 2004. In 2008 it was closed and reopened with a new name -- it used to be Johnston High School.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Today is the deadline to apply for priority school transfers in the Austin Independent School District for next school year.

Non-priority transfers to be considered during the first-round lottery selection are also due today. All applications need to be delivered in person to the Office of Student Services at the Carruth Administration Center by 5 p.m. or postmarked by today’s date.

Applications that aren't received by today will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis when space is available at the desired school. All transfer requests for the fall of 2014 must be received by Aug. 12.

Austin Feldman

Austin elementary school students performed strongly in the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. Middle schoolers didn't do quite as well.

Overall, the AISD passing rates for the STAAR—the standardized test that replaces the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS)—ranged from 82 percent in third and fourth grade reading to 58 percent in eighth grade social studies. Passing rates for most tests topped 70 percent.

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The Austin Independent School District is inviting the public to weigh-in this evening on a potential bond package.

The nearly $900 million bond proposal could go before voters as soon as May. Among other things, it proposes adding four new elementary schools to address overcrowding.

KUT News

The Austin Independent School Board will meet behind closed doors this evening. According to the executive session agenda, they may discuss possible lawsuits surrounding the district’s decision to cancel its contract with IDEA Public Schools.

In December, the board voted 5 to 4 to cancel the contract that hired IDEA to run an in-district charter at Allan Elementary.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

A plan to spend almost $889 million on upgrades to buildings and facilities in the Austin school district school will be presented to the school board for consideration tonight. The recommended bond package is the result of months of work by a citizens advisory committee.

The bond package proposal is divided into four separate parts:  $350 million for critical repairs, $264 million to help build more schools and add classrooms to alleviate overcrowding, $131 million to be spent on fixing cafeterias, technology and science labs and energy conservation, and another $145 million on facility improvements for fine arts, athletics, career and technology, special education.  You can read the breakdown in this AISD document

KUT News

The Austin school board is set to resume discussion on a boys-only school. The move comes just one month after the topic was postponed indefinitely.

The AISD board is set to discuss a total of three single-sex schools in a special meeting tonight: a School for Young Men and turning Garcia and Pearce Middle Schools into single-sex schools – one for boys and the other for girls.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Texas would lose about eight percent of its federal education funding if Washington can’t reach a compromise to avoid the package of spending cuts and tax increases contained in the “fiscal cliff.” Most of that money pays for programs to help children from low income families and to help students with disabilities.

Texas’ share of those so-called Title I and IDEA grants would be cut by $174 million, according to Texas Education Agency estimates. In a school district like Austin’s – where almost two out of three students are economically disadvantaged – federal grants would be cut by more than $2 million. You can see an estimate of your school district's cuts by checking this TEA document

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

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IDEA Public Schools says it will continue to operate in Austin, even after the Austin school board voted last night to cancel its contract with the charter school company.   

“This is certainly the most complex and intricate partnership with a district that we or really almost any charter school in the state of Texas has tried," IDEA founder and CEO Tom Torkelson said outside the IDEA Allan campus this morning. "Hopefully, this won’t stop the school district or other charters in the future from continuing to find great ways to partner and work together.”   

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

An experimental partnership between the Austin school district and a South Texas charter school company will come to an end. On Monday night, the AISD board voted narrowly in favor of terminating its contract with South Texas charter school operator IDEA Public Schools. It's a new affirmation of the old cliché, "elections matter." 

AISD

Austin ISD is conducting repairs at 18 elementary school cafeterias after an employee found glass in the pinto beans last week at Allison Elementary School. 

"She immediately pulled the pinto beans from the tray and also from the line and called to report the incident," says AISD health supervisor Tracy Lunoff. 

Turns out the sneeze guard broke and glass fell into the food. The vendor, Moduserve, has been called in to fix them. AISD says no students were hurt, and it sent this letter to parents notifying them of the incident. It also called parents directly whose children may have eaten the pinto beans. 

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Update: The Austin School Board will continue to talk about the district’s contract with IDEA Public Schools at its regular meeting later this month.

Right now, IDEA is just operating at Allan Elementary. But the charter will grow to include more grades and expand into Eastside Memorial if the board doesn’t make a decision to end or change the contract before the end of the year. Board member Rev. Dr. Jayme Mathias proposed that the contract continue but be changed to keep IDEA from expanding into Eastside Memorial next school year.

Under his proposal, IDEA would continue to include more grades but, instead of moving on to the Eastside Memorial campus, seventh graders would stay at Allan.

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