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AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen Presents the 2013 State of the District Address

Dear AISD Community,

Every year as part of our annual reporting rhythm, I present an update of the district’s goals, achievements, and challenges.  This year, I put a call out to our staff and students to help us tell our story, and, through this lens, we are able to provide a snapshot of the state of AISD.

AISD is one of the highest performing urban districts in the state and even the nation. We have continued to improve in the face of tougher accountability requirements, dwindling resources and changing demographics. While we haven’t achieved all of our goals and targets, it is clear that we have established a solid foundation for all student groups, we continue to improve, and we are well positioned to achieve new state accountability expectations while preserving what Austin values by educating the whole child.

Academic Performance

  • Compared to the other 20 large urban TUDA districts in the NAEP Trial Urban Assessment, AISD students ranked first for grade 8 on the 2011 NAEP in mathematics and second for grade 4; AISD students ranked third in reading at grade 8; and second in Reading at the grade 4 level. AISD students who are African-American, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, English-language learners, and/or in special education students performed well.

  • We have successfully transitioned from the TAKS testing system to the new STAAR and End of Course state accountability exams. For 2012, the TEA released indicators for districts to establish a baseline for future years. In the first year under the new testing system, 110 of AISD’s 123 schools met the state standard and 55 schools earned academic distinctions under new, stricter expectations, while ten schools did not meet state standards.

  • More students are prepared for college. The percent of students taking advanced and dual credit courses has risen from 27.1 percent to 31.2 percent in 2012. And the number of students taking the SAT and ACT college entrance exams rose from 71.7 percent to 77.7 percent. But this year, our challenge is having more students apply for and attend college. After a six percentage point increase in 2011, the number of seniors applying to two and four year colleges dropped four percentage points in 2012.
  • We want every student to graduate from high school, and today graduation rates have reached an all-time high of 82.5 percent. To help reach this goal, we have created alternative graduation pathways, like the Premier in-district charter programs at Lanier and Travis High Schools and Twilight Schools. These efforts are helping us bring down our dropout rate, which has declined by nearly three percentage points over the last four years to 9.5%.
  • We’re moving away from a culture of testing to one that emphasizes the whole child, every child. We started the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) initiative two years ago with 27 schools, we are in 73 schools this year, and it’s our goal, in two more years, to have SEL in all schools at every grade level.  We’re also adopting programs to combat discrimination and bullying. It’s our goal that the No Place for Hate initiative will reach every campus and every department in the district by the end of this school year.

  • We set a goal of improving attendance by one percentage point district-wide—and we have achieved it, which not only helps our performance, but it also has generated an additional $5.3 million in state funding.

Budget

  • Our district is in a strong financial position, with strong bond  ratings from all three ratings agencies, including a AAA rating from Moody’s. For the past four years, AISD has earned the Gold Leadership Circle Award from the Texas Comptroller. But to maintain this position, we need to find a long-term, permanent funding stream, most likely through a successful Tax Ratification Election.
  • We will need to make some tough tradeoffs to find the right balance between needs and, based on actual spending, our $25 million budget shortfall. As part of our multi-year budget planning, we are preparing for flat or declining revenue at the same time there are more funding requirements, such as costs related to the new graduation requirements under House Bill 5.

Facilities

  • In May 2013, Austin voters approved nearly $490 million in bond funding to repair and renovate school buildings, upgrade technology, renovate science labs, expand and renovate libraries, purchase new buses, and improve energy conservation. However, the Travis County Taxpayers Union has challenged the bond election in court, and bond funds cannot be released until the lawsuit is decided favorably. In the meantime, as will continue to develop the Facility Master Plan for the district.

While we have made many gains and improvements, we know there is still work to be done, and I am confident that—collaborating with our community—our district can and will lead the way in achieving all that we hope and dream for our children because our work is working. I encourage you to view the full State of the District address online at www.austinisd.org/sod and to explore additional bonus footage, which will be available later this week, and was created by our talented AISD students and staff.

 

Regards,

Meria Carstarphen
Superintendent