Austin ISD was named one of nine national recipients of a more than $3.5 million Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Early-Phase Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The EIR grant program funds projects that develop and implement evidence-based innovations to improve student achievement for high-need students and evaluate those innovations.
Building upon the district’s successful, multi-year Social and Emotional Learning Initiative, the grant will provide training, tools and additional staff to improve school climate and implement alternative approaches to suspension and expulsion through a community-building model known as restorative practices. Restorative practices is a whole-school approach that focuses on developing positive, inclusive relationships, fostering school connectedness and promoting harmony while teaching students to solve problems peacefully.
“With the restorative process, we’re aiming to build a positive classroom and school environment that helps students cultivate a high level of belonging and trust to engage with peers and adults in the school,” said Angela Ward, Administrative Supervisor of Race & Equity. “The grant aims to lessen the use of suspensions and expulsions and their disproportionate impact on students with disabilities and students of color. Restorative practices build upon the district’s ongoing efforts to address equitable outcomes for our diverse student body," said Michelle Wallis, Executive Director of Innovation and Development.
A cohort of students transitioning from elementary to middle schools using restorative practices will be evaluated over a five-year period by an external evaluator, listed in the proposal as the American Institutes for Research.The evaluation will assess the impact of a consistent, restorative approach to school climate within four middle schools - Burnet, Dobie, Garcia and Mendez - and six of their feeder elementary schools. The grant will impact approximately 6,500 students, more than 580 teachers, 30 administrators, service providers and parents at the 10 participating schools.
Campuses were chosen for the process according to a variety of criteria, including disproportionality in disciplinary referrals and removals, poverty levels and percentages of students of color.
As part of the EIR grant, the district proposed collaborating with the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue to provide training and ongoing consultation as AISD is basing the process on UT's model. The district will also commit 11 percent, or $354,730, in non-federal funds through facilities, personnel and resources to ensure the success of the grant. Additional grant funds will be used to hire a grant coordinator and restorative practice associates to be housed at each middle school and shared between elementary schools.
Through the restorative practices model, root causes of disparities are identified and alternative disciplinary practices are promoted. A strong emphasis on engagement with family, friends and community is also highlighted as part of the restorative practice process.