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Thank You, AISD

Dear AISD Community:

Today, I formally accepted the position of superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. I will work with the AISD Board of Trustees on a successful transition plan.

As I leave Austin, I feel assured knowing that AISD will remain in the good hands of our extraordinary educators, leaders and community—from our Board of Trustees and our front-line service providers to our civic leaders and families. Together, we have achieved AISD’s best performance under the highest, toughest accountability standards in the state’s history:

  • Graduation Rates—AISD’s graduation rate has reached an all-time high: 82.5 percent, up from 74.3 percent in 2008. And, gains among students who historically have had lower graduation rates are even more impressive: graduation rates have increased by between 13.9 percentage points and 27.6 percentage points for African-American and Hispanic students and English language learners.
  • Alternative Pathways—We have worked to ensure every student remains on the path to graduate from high school even if they need to take a different route to get there. To reach this goal, we have created alternative graduation pathways, like the Premier in-district charter programs at Lanier and Travis high schools and the Twilight School. I am pleased to report hundreds of students who have left AISD or who would be at-risk of leaving school have been able to use the programs to lay the foundation for their own path to graduation.
  • Whole Child, Every Child—For all students to reach their full potential, AISD has been moving away from a culture of testing to one that emphasizes the whole child, every child. We have been adopting programs to combat discrimination and bullying. We also plan for the No Place for Hate initiative to reach every campus and every department in the district by the end of the school year.
  • Social and Emotional Learning—Austin is one of the first districts in the nation working to integrate Social and Emotional Learning in the curriculum districtwide. SEL is the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes and skills to recognize and manage their emotions, demonstrate caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations constructively. We started SEL two years ago with 27 schools, we are in 71 schools this year and it’s our goal to have SEL in all schools at every grade level during 2015–16.
  • Any Given Child and Austin’s Creative Future—Working with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, AISD has helped launch a communitywide partnership with the City of Austin, Mindpop and more than 40 community arts organizations to provide Any Given Child equal access to the arts. The arts are a powerful motivator in education. When students are more motivated, they have better attendance and perform better academically. They graduate at higher rates and are twice as likely to attend college.
  • Attendance—We want students to experience all the educational opportunities available to them, and to do so they have to be in school. That’s why, three years ago, we launched an attendance campaign called Every Day Counts. We set a goal of improving attendance by one percentage point—and we have achieved it, which not only helps our performance, but it also generates an additional $5.3 million in state funding.
  • Transition to New Graduation Plans—We are adapting to the new state graduation requirements that reduce the number of end-of-course exams from 15 to five and preparing one diploma plan with opportunities for students to earn five different endorsements in such areas as STEM, business and industry, art and humanities.
  • Focus on Literacy—We are sharpening our focus on literacy education to help our students develop habits of mind that will prepare them for a full life, whatever path they choose.
  • Disciplinary Program Reform—For far too long, African-American and Special Education students were disproportionately placed in alternative campuses for discretionary reasons and nonviolent behavior. Last year, we changed our approach to allow more students to remain at their home campuses and stay on track for graduation. Since then, the number of discretionary removals from the classroom have dropped from 513 in 2011–12 to 207 in 2013–14, a 60 percent decrease

These are amazing achievements we should celebrate as a community. It has been a privilege to serve the students and families of Austin—and to work with and for you.

Sincerely,

Meria J. Carstarphen