A Birthday Wish for LBJ: Here’s to Winning the Tomorrows in Front of Us—for All Students

Before I go to bed tonight, I am mindful that today is Lyndon Baines Johnson’s birthday. LBJ inspires me because he was an education-focused, civil rights champion. Over Memorial Day weekend, I took my parents out to LBJ State Park and toured his hometown and the park to learn more about his legacy. My parents still live in Selma, Alabama, where I grew up–a city that is still immersed in civil rights struggles. I remember that every day as I take responsibility for addressing inequalities in education here in Austin.

LBJ’s legacy looms large in Austin—and AISD. As educators, we are fortunate to serve Austin, which is a city of ideas—a city of innovators.  Austin has world-class universities, innovative businesses and engaged civic leaders, including an army of the “doers and builders” LBJ said would “take up the front line” to ensure progress. I have seen it personally every day over the past four years from our teachers and staff members who have worked tirelessly to address long-standing issues that have plagued our school system for decades. The issues are tied to a beleaguered history of race-based struggles for longer than I have been alive.

And, yet, I am inspired and have hope for the future of all our students. For the past 48 hours, I have been visiting with team members at 16 campuses throughout Austin. And, I know one thing: Our work is working. AISD has the “doers and builders” who are taking “up the front line” to ensure progress.

For example, AISD’s graduation rate is at an all-time high: 82.5 percent in 2012, up from its lowest at 74.3 percent in 2008. And, gains in graduation rates for students who have typically had lower graduation rates are even more impressive. When viewed over a four-year period, you can see increases like 7.1 percentage points for Special Education students, 13.9 percentage points for African Americans, 14.7 percentage points for Hispanic students—and English Language Learners closed the gap by a whopping 27.6 percentage points. I applaud the tremendous progress our students, teachers, support staff, principals and other administrators have made.

This is an amazing achievement we should celebrate. Austin’s demographics are changing—and we must do everything we can to help every student—especially our most vulnerable students. In AISD, we have been planting seeds and growing graduation rates that will continue to pay off over time. 

Headlines simply can never tell the whole story. So while there is always work to be done, the achievements from our work may not always be made clear. Please speak to your principal or teacher if you have any questions about your school. You can always email me directly at superintendent@austinisd.org or call my office at 512-414-2416.

But, in honor of LBJ’s birthday, I am reminded about his clear-headed understanding of the press’ role in covering administrations. LBJ said, “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim.'”

Here in Austin, with Lady Bird Lake just a stone’s throw away, I know we have team members across the district who not only will walk on water but they will swim, dive, snorkel, fish, water ski, sail or boogie board, if they have to, to get one more child graduated.

At AISD, we are committed to looking past the headline to focus on the bottom line: our students’ success— today and in the future. After all, we have LBJ’s army of “doers and builders” who “take up the front line” every day to ensure progress. Like LBJ, we can all take responsibility for correcting many past wrongs by focusing on our strengths and moving forward for the future: “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose. I am resolved to win the tomorrows before us.”

Welcome back and thank you, Austin, for all you do for children and families every day. Blessings and have a great school year!