Convocation: Welcome Back, AISD!

Dear AISD Community,

Today, I welcomed nearly 12,000 AISD employees back to school. This year, we developed convocation as a 20-minute video, so that we could literally draw our community in to our focus for the next school year.
It takes thousands of hardworking people—more than 11,500, actually—to serve our 86,000 students at more than 120 campuses. No matter our job, we’re all working towards the same end goal: to make sure our students are ready for college, career and life.
So how are we doing that? AISD’s work is based on the Board of Trustees-approved, five-year strategic plan that includes goals and targets. Each year, the board gives us a road map to reaching those goals by setting priorities for that year.
The road ahead at times will be rocky, unpredictable or smooth, but we’ll switch on our “brights” to focus on the work that will keep us moving forward this school year. Board goals, the strategic plan and priorities plus our current context equals the focus for school year 2013-14.

Four Focus Areas for the 2013-14 School Year

Our focus will be on four areas: one—providing competitive compensation for staff, two—making smart choices to balance the budget, three—holding the district accountable to the community through the development of a facility master plan, and four—turning up the spotlight on student literacy.

  • Competitive Salaries: This year, we will maintain last year’s temporary 3 percent salary adjustment, which is pensionable. On top of this increase, we plan to provide the equivalent of an additional 1.5 percent increase based on current annualized salary—for every employee. This will be paid in two lump sums and will not be pensionable. If we can identify an additional $2.4 million in budget savings, we will provide every teacher with an increase of at least $1,000.
  • Balance the Budget: We will fill our budget gap by drawing nearly $18 million from our reserves and identifying savings of up to $12 million through cost containment strategies such as the current hiring freeze, deliberate vacancy and lapsed salary savings, waste and contract cost reductions—not through layoffs.
  • Implement the 2013 Bond Program/Facility Master Plan: In May, voters approved nearly $490 million in bond funds for the district. As a result, every school in AISD will benefit. These funds will allow us to repair and renovate our facilities, upgrade technology, renovate science labs, expand and renovate libraries, purchase new buses, and improve energy conservation. We have committed to developing a facility master plan by next summer. It will serve as a long-range capital improvement plan and will have to include the areas in the bond propositions that did not pass. So we will need strategies for addressing over- and under- enrolled schools, career and technical education, special education, arts and athletics. As part of good stewardship, it will mean possibly changing transfer policies and practices. School boundary changes are likely to be considered as well as how we better utilize our existing school infrastructure.
  • Focus on Literacy: Literacy is the core to all other learning and is essential to our success as a district. By intensifying our focus on literacy education, and devoting more staff resources toward free voluntary reading—which simply means offering students the freedom to choose what they read—we will help our students develop habits of mind that will prepare them for deeper thinking and a full life. Literacy connects everything. If students can read something, they should be able to write about it, speak about it and listen to others discuss it. In AISD every teacher, can be a literacy teacher. Every staff member can help encourage reading and make every moment a literacy moment.

Please take a moment to watch AISD’s 2013 convocation video, which provides an overview of the district’s priorities and achievements.
While there are many people behind the scenes that make something like this happen, our white board animation experience would never have come to life without Adam Miller, our colleague and talented teacher from Crockett High School. Like all great teachers, he uses his talents and strengths to bring excitement into his instruction, creating elaborate illustrations on white boards in his classroom to help draw students into lessons. And that’s a lesson we can all learn.
Throughout AISD, our work is working—every day at every school. Thanks for all you do to support the district as we work together to prepare Austin students for college, career and life.
Meria J. Carstarphen