Superintendent Carstarphen: Thanks to St. David's Foundation, SEL Partners for Support

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen thanked St. David’s Foundation and AISD partners for their investment in the district's Social Emotional Learning program and initiative. 

In her Power of Us blog, the superintendent wrote:

Today, the St. David’s Foundation announced it is investing $1,068,051 in AISD’s Social and Emotional Learning program, known as SEL. At a press conference today at Govalle Elementary School in East Austin, Earl Maxwell, Executive Director of the St. David’s Foundation, joined a group of our partners to announce the grant and to offer perspectives on why it is so important that this program be expanded to schools throughout the district as soon as possible . The funding will allowing the district to make a huge leap in our progress towards this goal.

This work responds to the very real need to focus on building perseverance and resilience in our children. These skills are foundational to the academic success of our students. If students can persevere – set goals, overcome obstacles and develop healthy relationships – we know they will be more successful in work and in life.  Studies are showing that employers are prioritizing applied skills such as communication and teamwork when hiring new employees. SEL builds these skills. There is mounting research to support the idea that educating the heart, through social and emotional learning, is as important as educating the brain.

Our district is one of eight school districts in the nation to participate in the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) Collaborating Districts Initiative.  Austin joined the collaborative and began implementing the program in 2011. We have chosen to roll SEL out over a five year period in 2-3 vertical teams at a time, while working on climate and culture and cultural proficiency in all schools and central office. We started with two vertical teams, Austin and Crockett, which had applied to be “pioneers” in this area.  In the past year, we have added the Eastside Memorial, McCallum, and Travis vertical teams, and we intend to expand to all vertical teams by 2015.

Last year, Jeanne and Michael Klein, Betsy and Hughes Abell from the Buena Vista Foundation and Carmel and Thomas Borders from the Tapestry Foundation issued a $1 million challenge grant to SEL, which allowed AISD to begin expanding the initiative through instructional coaching, parent and classified personnel training, curriculum materials, campus facilitator stipends and professional development.

With these two $1 million grants, as well as a recent grant of $300,000 from RGK Foundation and contributions from the Austin Community, AISD is well on its way to integrating SEL into all of its schools. However, AISD is still looking for funding sources to ensure the program is expanded across the district.

While we haven’t reached the stage in our program to be able to provide hard data about the effects of SEL, we are In Austin, we’re in the early stages of implementing SEL, and we do not yet have multi-year program evaluation results. We are seeing encouraging trends to suggest that the data will be positive. For example, at one middle school that is using SEL, discipline referrals for sixth grade students in the first six weeks of school in 2012 were 39% percent lower than the previous year. In our recent State of the District movie, which I know all of you have seen online, we highlighted a teacher at Austin High School who credits SEL with significant decreases in referrals and increases in passing rates among students in his MAPS class, where he teaches SEL skills.

One area where SEL is especially important is in our district’s efforts to change the way we deal with disciplinary referrals. Students who are removed from the classroom for discretionary reasons and non-violent behavior, who have disproportionately been African American and special education students, no longer are sent away from the campus to a separate disciplinary alternative education center. Instead, they remain on campus and are provided better behavior, including SEL. This is having a positive effect on performance and attendance.

Govalle is one of the first implementers of SEL, and Principal Nancy Maniscalco showed  us SEL in action in the classroom of first grade teacher Lyndi Garrett.

This announcement continues a partnership between AISD and the St. David’s Foundation that has existed over the years and benefited so many of our families. Thanks to the support of the St. David’s Foundation, our cafeterias have been redesigned to support better student health, thousands of students have been able to get the dental and vision screening and care that they need, and during my tenure as superintendent, more than 20 AISD students have received college scholarships in honor of the late Neal Kocurek.

We are grateful to the St. David's Foundation and all of our SEL partners for their support.

Meria Carstarphen