School Board President Vincent M. Torres read the following statement at the Dec. 16, 2013 regular board meeting:
The Trustees of the Austin Independent School District have completed the annual performance evaluation of our Superintendent, Dr. Meria Carstarphen, for the 2012-2013 school year and wish to take this opportunity to report on this work to the community.
The Board of Trustees has the responsibility to evaluate the performance of only one employee–the Superintendent. Her annual evaluation is comprehensive and is largely based on reviewing the District’s progress on the Board’s priorities for the 2012-2013 school year and the overarching goals for our students in the strategic plan, and on the Superintendent’s overall leadership in her ongoing responsibilities in the areas of educational leadership, district management and Board and community relations.
Overall, the Board is pleased with the progress made by the district under Dr. Carstarphen’s leadership during the past year. We recognize the incredible challenges of managing an urban school system, with almost 12,000 employees, 128 campuses, a large food service operation, state-of-the-art transportation department, extensive and varied athletic facilities and various other district complexes. AISD is a large, complex organization with an increasingly diverse student population. The district has more than 85,300 students, including 61 percent who are economically disadvantaged, 27 percent who are considered English Language Learners and 10 percent who are identified as needing special education services. Every day we see increasing competition from neighboring school districts for our students and staff, and we see competition for our students from rapidly-growing state charter schools.
In addition to these challenges, AISD, along with many districts across Texas, is engaged in litigation against the state to address the inadequacy and inequity of the existing school finance system. Our Superintendent testified in the November 2012 trial and argued on behalf of our district for restoration of funding to offset the $5.4 billion budget cuts enacted by the Legislature in 2011. While AISD received some restored funding at the end of the 2013 legislative session our district was not made whole again like other districts across the state. As a result of AISD’s significant state budget cuts in 2011, AISD has less money to spend per pupil. This adversely impacts both our students and our educators through larger class sizes, reduced social service supports and limitations on our ability to significantly increase staff compensation. And what many do not understand is that the district does not significantly benefit from the increased tax base in Austin. Instead, the primary impact on our local taxpayers of the increased tax base comes in the form of increased recapture payments to the state. This uncertainty in funding at the state and now at the national levels has put enormous pressure on the district.
However, to help her address these challenges and uncertainties, the Superintendent has assembled a strong, well-respected leadership team. The Board recognizes and appreciates the importance of AISD’s strong leadership team in the face of all this uncertainty so that operationally, our budget remains sound despite major reductions in state funding for public education over the past two years. She has led the work to manage our resources wisely with a strategic, long-term view and, as a result, we have received high bond ratings over the past three years. Further, as an example of her personal commitment and understanding of these financial constraints on the district, for two consecutive years, she has declined the equivalent of a 3 percent salary increase.
While the district’s achievements and successes during the past year are numerous, we wish to highlight a few significant examples of the five district priorities for school year 2012-2013, which were: cultivate the Whole Child, Every Child, build a College-Ready Culture, deliver effectively the current Portfolio of Options, invest in Human Capital and strengthen our Systems.
First, in the area of “Whole Child, Every Child,” the Superintendent led a shift in the focus away from a culture of testing—which can be punitive and narrowly focused on test results—to one that emphasizes academic standards of excellence and strengths and interests of the whole child with art programs, athletics, health and wellness initiatives; and Social Emotional Learning. Social Emotional learning was established in three vertical teams in AISD. In 2012, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in partnership with the City of Austin, higher education institutions, and community arts entities, conducted an arts assessment of AISD. The district leveraged this arts assessment to implement the Any Given Child initiative to provide arts rich classrooms and arts rich education opportunities to every child in AISD. An anonymous $1 million dollar donation for the AISD-MindPOP partnership for Any Given Child now helps support schools implementing the seven components of an arts-rich campus. The Any Given Child initiative is an unprecedented partnership in arts education among community arts organizations, the school district and the City of Austin. In April of this year, AISD and the Board received the 25th annual prestigious Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network and National School Boards Association Award for its outstanding support of high-quality arts education.
Second, in the area of College-Ready Culture, our four-year federal high school graduation rates for all student groups increased and reached all-time highs with the class of 2012, including minority, poor and special education students. This trend reflects the hard work of our students and campus staff. Furthermore, for the class of 2012, we also saw a decrease in the dropout rate for all student groups except for our white students and our English Language Learners. These improvements are very encouraging because we cannot achieve our goal of having all students graduate from high school if they drop out along the way. These are remarkable improvements that have occurred, for the most part, over the past four years.
The district, under Dr. Carstarphen, increased and developed a strong focus on literacy and numeracy at all levels, which is reflected in the continued academic improvement of students across the district. In 2013, AISD students showed improvement in STAAR assessments in grades 3 through 8 over the previous year in all subjects except for writing where their performance remained the same. On end of course (EOC) assessments, AISD high school students exceeded the state’s passing rate by 7 percentage points in chemistry; 3 points in Algebra I; 2 points in Algebra II and in English II Writing; 1 point in English I Writing and World History; and equaled the state’s passing rates on English II Reading and Biology.
And at the national level, AISD continues to perform well in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the nation’s report card. AISD ranked first in the nation in 8th grade math and second in the nation in 4th grade math in comparison to all NAEP urban districts. AISD African American, Hispanic, Economically Disadvantaged, ELL and Special Education students also performed well. For example, among the 21 large urban districts:
- African American students ranked 2nd in both grade 4 Reading and Mathematics;
- Hispanic students ranked 2nd in grade 8 Math;
- Economically Disadvantaged students ranked 1st in grade 4 Math;
- Students with Disabilities ranked 1st in grade 4 Math;
- English Language Learners ranked 2nd in both grade 4 Math and grade 8 Math.
In an effort to eliminate the disproportionality in disciplinary actions that have adversely affected some student groups, the district implemented a restructuring of the Alternative Education program in AISD for discretionary removals by handling non-safety removals on campus through the creation of campus-based Learning Support Centers. The Learning Support Centers allow students to remain on campus to address their disciplinary issue, thereby reducing the probability of them falling behind in their academic courses and the risk of them dropping out of school. This initiative is showing great promise and, most importantly, we are not adversely affecting academic opportunities of these students for minor disciplinary actions:
- Overall, in 2013 there was a 65 percent reduction in the number of discretionary removals.
- In addition, there was a 5 percent reduction in the number of mandatory removals.
Third, the Superintendent continued to expand access to rich options in the district through dual language programs, early childhood education and alternative pathways to graduation.
Fourth, in the area of Human Capital, we were pleased to see the district increase compensation for all staff and expand access to health insurance care to qualifying individuals to meet the diverse needs of our employees and their households.
Fifth, in the area of Systems, our technology infrastructure improvements like the AISD Cloud and the Parent Cloud are proving to be the source for educational resources and information about other helpful resources. These technology improvements have also resulted in the district moving to a paperless system to electronically manage documents, a cost-effective and environmentally friendly move.
As stated earlier, AISD is a large, complex, highly diverse urban district with numerous challenges. As such, there will always be work to do and areas that can be improved upon. Therefore, there are some areas we have asked the Superintendent to focus on for the remainder of this academic year.
This past spring, the legislature passed new high school graduation requirements and new assessment and accountability systems for all schools. These new assessment and accountability systems require that an assessment of whether students are college-ready at the elementary school level be conducted. Therefore, it is important that to remain college-ready in subsequent years, we clearly define and improve our measure of grade-level success consistent with the new college-ready standards. We must also ensure that at each grade all students are performing at or preferably above grade level when they complete that grade, especially in the core academic areas.
We must continue the momentum of improvement with our minority, economically disadvantaged, special education and English-language learner student groups so that we continue to close the achievement gap and ensure that all students graduate college-, career- and life-ready. But we must not forget to continue to challenge and provide opportunities for our gifted and talented students and those advanced academic students, who may require greater academic challenges than our standard curriculum offers.
We must continue to invest in and support our campus staff. To be most efficient, this will require greater and greater collaboration between campus and administrative personnel as well as strategic monitoring of the professional development needs of educators and staff on each campus and providing the appropriate support from central office administrative teams. This means the Board must also work with the Superintendent to identify and secure the funding needed to continue to provide competitive compensation for all staff and provide them with the resources needed to perform their jobs.
To respond to the competition from private and state charter schools, we must be proactive in our efforts to ensure that every parent’s and student’s experience every day in AISD are positive ones and that the academic and extra-curricular offerings of the vertical teams across the district are of high quality and well publicized within and outside of AISD. Therefore, we must ensure that the environment at every campus and in every facility is welcoming and inviting to our customers and to our visitors. We know that they have choices, and we want them to make AISD their choice.
Finally, we understand that ultimate success in our schools is, and will always be, dependent on support and trust from our community. Educating our children is a shared community concern and responsibility. We must continually work to develop and enhance the District’s relationship with parents, community groups and the community at-large. Last year, the Superintendent continued her board service and other commitments to organizations such as Ballet Austin, the Austin Symphony, the Council of Great City Schools, Austin Partners in Education and the Austin Education Foundation, to name a few. She still mentors a student through the Seedling Foundation for students with at least one parent who is incarcerated. Also last year, the Superintendent earned the Texas Legislative Black Caucus Outstanding Texan Award.
The Board will work with the Superintendent and her leadership team to continue the positive progress and to make AISD a nationally recognized school district that is committed to educating the whole child and every child. We believe we are moving in the right direction to achieve this goal and that Dr. Carstarphen, her leadership team, and all of our district’s educators will continue to raise the performance of our students and our district.
We thank Dr. Carstarphen and her team for all the efforts and good work we have seen over the past year. Additionally, the Board wishes to express its appreciation of the effort of all the district’s educators and staff who are committed to doing the very best, every day, for every child in AISD.