Dear AISD Community,
When President Barack Obama asked the nation’s school districts to answer the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” as part of his call to improve the achievement of young men of color, I am proud to report AISD answered with a resounding, “Yes. We are.”
Every day, in every school, AISD’s teachers and team members are working to ensure all of our students have the support they need to reach their full potential. As a district, we evaluate the performance and needs of more than 85,000 students and focus additional resources on students who may be struggling—or who are from communities where poverty and patterns of racial inequity have dampened educational opportunity and achievement. In AISD, young men of color are performing above the national average, but we know there is more work to be done.
Simply put: As educators, we believe if one student does not complete high school, that is one student too many.
My Brother’s Keeper: The Nationwide Pledge
This week, Trustee Cheryl Bradley and I traveled to the nation’s capital to join President Obama at a town hall meeting to announce the expansion of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. We and public school leaders from across the country pledge to improve the academic and social outcomes of boys and young men of color—from pre-kindergarten through high school.
Austin’s school district stands with 60 of the largest urban school systems to support boosting efforts to prepare males of color for college and careers, to reduce the disproportionate number who drop out of school or who are suspended, and to help them succeed. The nationwide pledge complements AISD’s commitment to improve achievement among all students.
AISD Proud: Our Progress to Date
AISD's graduation rate has reached an all-time high of 82.5 percent. Graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic students for the Class of 2012* reached 79.6 and 78.6 percent, respectively, exceeding national rates of 69 percent for African-American students and 73 percent for Hispanic students.
AISD also has reformed its approach to disciplinary programs because, historically, young men of color had been disproportionately placed in alternative campuses. Last year, the district changed its approach to discretionary removals, providing more students the opportunity to remain at their home campuses and stay on track for graduation. Since then, the number of discretionary removals from the classroom dropped from 513 in 2011–12 to 207 in 2013–14, a decrease of 60 percent.
Austin Strong: Our Community’s Call to Action
As Austin’s demographics continue to change, we must continue to do everything we can to help all students, especially our most vulnerable and under-represented children. Historically, we know many young men of color have faced challenges—and some have even had the odds stacked against them—as they work to overcome obstacles such as poverty and low expectations. But once students have the support they need, they perform exceedingly well.
Schools and communities have a special responsibility to offer young men of color additional support as they challenge stereotypes and navigate adolescence into manhood. This support could be in the form of mentorship, connecting each student with an adult who champions him, someone he knows is in his corner and has his back.
Community partnerships are critical to boost support for students. AISD is fortunate to be able to call upon partners and friends throughout Austin to help extend the reach of our efforts. We work with community leaders such as:
- Dr. Sterling Lands II, bishop of Greater Calvary Rites of Passage, which works with 5- to 17-year-olds to prevent destructive behaviors and build students with high integrity, to offer student assemblies, teacher workshops, parent training and family workshops;
- Michael Lofton, founding director of the African-American Youth Harvest Foundation, to offer culturally relevant, family-centered educational, health and human services;
- Dr. Victor Saenz, an education professor at the University of Texas at Austin, to offer mentors through Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success);
- Suki Steinhauser, CEO of Communities in Schools, to offer the XY-Zone, a leadership development and peer support program for at-risk young men; and
- Allen Weeks, executive director of Austin Voices for Education and Youth, to offer education fairs and school leadership and youth empowerment programs.
In the fall, the district is opening the Gus Garcia Young Men's Leadership Academy, which focuses on preparing students for success at our early college high schools at LBJ and Reagan.
As we prepare for the start of the back-to-school season, I look forward to continuing our courageous conversations and expanding our community-based collaborations to help our young men of color—and all of our students—succeed.
Dr. Paul Cruz
*Graduation Rates for the Class of 2013: The district projects graduation rates for the Class of 2013 will increase from the most recent data available at this time. The Texas Education Agency is expected to release new data Aug. 8.