What is the role of a trustee? How do you plan to perform it?
The role of a trustee is much less complex than most boards would have you believe. This does not mean that it’s simple as the board must create effective, tangible, and cross-functional relationships with the entire community. The primary functions include hiring/firing a superintendent, setting clear and transparent outcome goals, holding the superintendent and her administration accountable to those goals, establishing local priorities, setting a budget that is aligned to our goals and values, and setting a tax rate. Good governance generally means staying out of the weeds and focusing on these components as the method of driving change and leading from the community by ensuring citizens are strategically brought into the decision-making process. The most critical of these is goal setting and accountability. I am a proponent of the Lone Star Governance model of board accountability as it significantly prioritizes a focus on student outcomes and growth.
I plan to perform the role of trustee with a focus on inclusively bringing the entire community into the functions noted above. As a trustee, I will work tirelessly to ensure we, as effectively as possible, are able to draft clear and transparent SMART goals with clear and transparent constraints that the district must operate within. This inclusion means creating new systems for interacting with the community to ensure broader reach. Without a thoughtful codified system, it will be difficult to hold the board members accountable to not continue to focus on the preexisting power structures. Currently, unless you have the privilege to be able to attend board meetings, you are offered little to no voice in this district. It doesn’t have to be that way and this input is an appropriate issue for a governing board to address. What we must do to start is have open dialogue and conversation around the question “How can we thoughtfully and effectively offer an opportunity for every resident of Austin ISD to respond to high-level district decisions”?
Why are you running for office?
I’m running for Austin ISD Board of Trustees because I’m tired of hearing our leaders continue to focus on surface-level symptoms with bandaids and duct tape while disregarding the fact that the foundation they are working from is, and has been, broken. We must diagnose root causes and prescribe policy changes focused on meeting the individual needs of our students. I believe with strategic innovations around enrollment, school-based funding, and community-led school redesigns we can have a district that is more flexible to better serve every student.
Why are you qualified to hold this position?
I have worked with dozens of superintendents and school boards across the country. In my experience, most proactive change is stifled or damaged by the school board more frequently than any other stakeholder in a school district. I know that I can be a leader that works with my board colleagues, families, educators, and the larger community to set practical goals and constraints to help the Superintendent and the district succeed. I will use my experience to maintain strong systems of accountability that yield the outcomes Austin ISD students deserve.
What makes you a better candidate than your opponent?
Austin voters tend to elect two types of people to the AISD board which follows a national trend. One is the more overt status-quo oriented person who comes from a current place of power. The second is the well-intentioned community advocate who is generally predisposed to a single-minded approach with a limited understanding of how systemic change is implemented effectively and sustainably in a school system. Both effectively perpetuate the status quo. I’m the only candidate who has been a classroom teacher and who comes to the table with years of experience designing, implementing, and managing systemic change in multiple states and districts across the country. This experience will be a critical necessity to most effectively hold our superintendent accountable to driving real change in AISD. I am asking the community, other board members, and the district to use me as a professional resource to dismantle the barriers to positive change.
What are the three main issues facing the district you hope to represent? How will you address them?
1) Massive inequities based on race, income, and student ability: Engage in a comprehensive equity audit to address EVERY system, policy, and procedure within AISD. Correct the broken foundation of AISD’s system starting with creating an enrollment policy that prioritizes student needs and wants over geographic location. Repair the funding system so that schools are funded based on actual student needs and not through antiquated staff allocation formulas.
2) Lack of trust from the community: Create an ombudsman/inspector general office to manage and investigate complaints. Work with the community and frontline educators to co-create a structured school redesign process. Done cyclically, this can ensure that the district schools become more flexible to the changing needs of society and the needs and wants of individual families and communities.
3) An increasing trend of families opting out of AISD for other options: Hold AISD administration accountable to reaching out to every family that left the district to capture and understand why they left and what we could have done to not lose them. Based on what is learned, we must work to create the options within AISD that are reflective of those needs and wants.
What are the roots of inequity in AISD? How is inequity manifest in AISD? How will you confront those inequities?
The 1928 Austin City Master Plan was overtly used to systematically remove Black citizens from land that white citizens wanted downtown and other desirable locations. The area currently east of I-35 was designated as a “negro zone” and the city sought to engineer city services, including schools, to force Black citizens to relocate. This reality was overt, systemic, institutional racism. The legacy of this and subsequent actions by the city government are still clearly present today.
Austin ISD is one of the most segregated school districts in the state. While around 54% of enrolled students are identified as economically disadvantaged, only 3 of our 130 schools are within 5 percentage points of this balance. 43 of our 130 schools maintain an enrollment of over 90% economically disadvantaged students and 10 of our schools maintain an enrollment of less than 10% economically disadvantaged students. This discrepancy correlates directly with the racial segregation in our city. The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling did not seem to change much in Austin’s schools in practice. In response to a federal lawsuit in the early 1970s, AISD adopted mandatory one-way busing in 1971. Two-way bussing was implemented in 1979 and lasted until 1986 when court supervision ended.
There is a difference between actively integrating schools and actively eliminating systems and structures that serve to prevent organic integration. I would say that we need to first address those clear barriers and systems of segregation before making any plans for active integration. I believe these systems are so clear that they can and should be addressed while an equity audit is taking place and that there is no need to wait for the audit to be completed.
Having served on the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee, I feel confident in stating that the purpose of the committee (and attendance boundaries in general) is to justify the perpetuation of racial and economic segregation. Our school system is not capable of solving all of society’s problems but it surely does not need to perpetuate those issues. Our schools are segregated because our homes and neighborhoods are segregated. A student’s address should not be the most important variable in determining what school or program a student has access to. Their needs and interests should be at the top of that list. Change must be pragmatic and intentional for it to be effective and sustainable. With that being said, I am a strong advocate for a complete redesign of our district’s transfer policies as the first step towards equitable access and opportunities. Any student that transfers to a school with the need for transportation must have it offered. Options and choices without transportation are only options and choices for the wealthy.
In addition to addressing boundaries that act as tools of segregation, we must also address our funding system. Our current funding system is based more on the adults in our system than on the students. I am a proponent for a thoughtful, well-designed student-based budget to ensure our budget has the potential to become the moral document that it should be. Funding formulas should align with student need to address structurally address the opportunity gaps we have between students based, on race, income, ability, and self-identities.
These policies alone do not solve the problem of inequity but they absolutely represent tangible changes to the specific structures of segregation. They must be addressed for any meaningful conversation to take place. As long as a conversation around enrollment and school funding is happening in and across our community and includes multiple ideas and innovations, we will be moving in the right direction.
What are your thoughts on Austin ISD’s current pandemic plan regarding student learning and a potential return to in-person instruction? What, if any, changes need to be made to ensure that distance learning better meets the needs of all students and that students, teachers, and staff are safe when in-person instruction resumes?
It is important to note that I do not believe there is any one right answer that will make everyone happy. We need to be focusing our energy on understanding every need of our students, families, and staff and identifying ways that we can meet each of those needs. The updated third draft of the AISD Open for Learning Plan incorporates most of what I would expect and want to see. So long as we are prioritizing safety and not forcing anyone into any situation that they are uncomfortable with, while focusing on the needs of our individual students first, then we are moving in the right direction.
What is concerning to me is the lack of information related to educator/staff support. This gap may be more of an internal communication but if it exists it should be added into the school reopening plan. There are many members of the community that are concerned for our employees and would like to know how we plan on supporting them. What is the process for teachers who want to volunteer to return to campus? Are they receiving any supplemental pay or an emergency stipend? If not, they should, assuming the district has the funds available (hopefully additional Federal aid will arrive in the coming days) Are they being held harmless on sick days if they test positive for COVID-19? If not, they should. Will they be required to pay out of pocket expenses for COVID-19 related medical expenses? If they are, they should not. Are we requiring teachers to teach both face to face and virtually? If we are, I strongly recommend that we work to ensure no teacher is serving both in person and virtual students.
Another area of concern to me that appears to be missing from the current reopening plan is related to school culture. This important variable relating to the success of both students and staff does become negated by a virtual learning situation. The reopening plan identifies the district’s professional school counselors as responsible for creating safe, supportive, inclusive school learning environments through the counseling program. These professionals cannot be solely responsible for creating a culture of safe and supportive environments. I would like to see AISD further flesh out a plan for intentionally building and maintaining a positive school culture (whether virtual or in person) with a focus on being safe and supportive for every student.
What perspectives or experiences do you bring to the school board?
I began my career as a high school social studies teacher (world history and psychology), varsity wrestling coach, and middle-school soccer coach. I understand the pressure placed on teachers and our leaders have a responsibility to ensure the systems they create enable every teacher to successfully support every student. Education is my passion and the focus of the organization I founded is on helping schools and districts implement innovative and sustainable changes to improve the lives and outcomes of all students. I have spent the past 7 years supporting education leaders at every level (teacher leaders, principals, directors, chiefs, and superintendents) and across multiple states and dozens of districts to design better systems for better results.
I moved to Austin to work at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to support school districts across our great state. Through my time at the agency, I saw a lot of great work being done to design systems that work for all kids. However, some districts, like Austin, let its unaligned values and misguided priorities get in the way of what was best for the students and families who must be the primary stakeholder served. As the manager of district strategy and innovation at TEA, I had the privilege to work closely with over a dozen districts across Texas (El Paso, Ft Worth, San Antonio, Spring Branch, Galveston, Brownsville, Manor, Richardson, and Midland, to name several). While the primary stakeholders that I worked with in these districts were the superintendent and innovation leaders, it also required working with board members in each district to understand their concerns and coach them through an understanding of change management within the school system.
Before moving to Austin, I worked as a school district administrator for Lawrence Public Schools in Massachusetts working closely with the deputy superintendent and chief redesign officer to design and implement systemic change across our 30+ schools. At the time of my employment, Lawrence had about 14,000 students with 81% designated as “high-needs” and 36% English Language Learners.
As the manager of special projects and strategic planning in Lawrence, I was the district’s lead administrator in implementing a $2.9 million/year Pre-K expansion at 2 new community-centered early childhood centers. This expansion was designed to be a new option and was only available to students at a certain percentage of the federal poverty guidelines. While most of the district pre-k options were only available for half-days and for the 180-day school year, the pre-k expansion that we implemented was a full day (8 hours) and year-round (250 days). These hours of operation enabled our parents and families to better plan for their children around work schedules that do not often align with the school calendar. This experience has been one of the most successful systemic change efforts with a focus on equity that I have led.
One of the most important lessons I take from my experiences is that there is always something to learn from every school and district. We must move forward in understanding that the systemic issues that plague AISD from its foundation are not dissimilar to the issues in most metropolitan area school districts across the country. Once elected, I look forward to serving as an experienced resource for every community, other board members, and our entire district to create effective and sustainable changes that meet the unique needs of each student.
What is your broader vision for the district?
Based on our equity challenges, decreasing enrollment challenges, and loss of community trust challenges, we have a strong opportunity to generate profound systemic change in Austin ISD. With its size, socioeconomic diversity, geographic location in a major tech hub, and a critical mass of community members who are begging for positive change, there is no excuse why Austin cannot become a model, innovative urban school district that truly works to serve every student and family based on their needs and wants.
With a focus on equity, we should start by addressing the structures that form the foundation of our district related to root causes and move past the identification of symptoms as the best way to affect sustainable change. The two structures that I believe should be addressed first include our enrollment system and our school funding system.
Enrollment should be based on the district working to provide each student and family with the specific academic option that best meets their needs. We have an opportunity here to redesign Austin’s education system to finally work for everyone, and I believe that takes place when the district asks our students and families two questions and then acts on those. Question 1 is “what are your community/neighborhood needs and wants?” Responses to this question should serve as a guide for the district in how to implement differentiated community services at every school/community center across our city, focused specifically on the needs of the neighborhood where the building is located. Question 2 is “what are your academic needs and wants?” Responses to question 2 from across the city should act as a guide for the district to begin a process for redesigning schools based on what families and students are asking for. We will be able to establish more high-quality programs and options for all of our students and more appropriate community services specific to their requests if we don’t focus on meeting both those needs in the same building for every student. However, we should focus efforts to ensure that our students of color and others who have been systematically marginalized are supported in any redesign process to access any campus and/or program in the district.
In terms of school-based funding, I am a proponent of moving away from a staff allocation formula form of funding towards a weighted student-based funding formula. I believe that this system creates more transparency with the community in terms of understanding how physical dollars are equitably distributed based on students’ needs and not based on schools and staff. Before Nicole Conley left the district, she presented this vision to me and the other members of the Budget and Finance Advisory Committee. Included in her comments was the district’s intention to research and potentially adopt a student-based budgeting system. I believe we need to ensure this conversation does not get lost in the shuffle with the Superintendent transition as enrollment and funding are two of the most structured variables in our district’s system of institutional racism.
What would be on your legislative agenda if elected?
1) AISD should support the George Floyd Act and other initiatives to end the school to prison pipeline.
2) Repealing SB 2432 from last session which provided teachers who further punish their students with too many protections. SB 2432 disproportionately affects our students of color and special education students who are already disciplined at high rates compared to their white peers.
3) Ensuring that schools are fully reimbursed for the additional costs that were posed by COVID-19
4) Funds that are generated by student weights (ELL, FRL, SPED, and more) should not be subject to recapture (robinhood) to ensure that our most disadvantaged student populations have access to additional resources
5) There should be no campus A-F ratings in the 20-21 school year since there is no way to calculate student growth in this school year. For future school years, if the state maintains an A-F system, they must add in additional measures besides test scores to accurately measure school performance in grades K-8. These measures could include but not limited to: Chronic abseentism (which is a key MBK indicator), parent and student surveys, and student learning objectives in currently untested subjects
What does respect mean to you and, under your leadership, what are some ways AISD would demonstrate respect to its students, families, employees, and the community?
Respect means making a conscious effort to meet people where they are physically, emotionally, mentally, and academically to better understand their perspective and frames of reference prior to making any judgements or decisions that may affect them. Not everyone has the time or resources to be on advisory committees but it is the job of a trustee to meet everyone where they are. AISD should always assume it must earn the respect of students, families, staff, and the larger community. With this mentality it will be absolutely necessary to listen to these different stakeholder groups. We must listen to our people. Giving opportunities to speak is different from active listening. The previous board had limited the ability of community members to comment during meetings and engaged in a superintendent search process that provided no opportunity for students, families, staff, and community members to participate. At the least, the six finalists should have been required to respond anonymously to the community questionnaire, and ideally it should have been a public process at the finalist level.
How did you support and enable efforts at educational equity in your previous work? Please give a specific example.
As the manager of special projects and strategic planning at Lawrence Public Schools in Massachusetts, I was the district’s lead administrator in creating 170 new pre-k seats at 2 new community-centered schools. These new options were only available to students at a certain percentage of the federal poverty guidelines. While most of the district pre-k options were only available for half-days and for the 180-day school year, the pre-k expansion that we implemented was a full day (8 hours) and year-round (260). These hours of operation enabled our parents and families to better plan for their children around work schedules that do not often align with school schedules.
i. Lawrence has about 14,000 students and is 30 miles north of Boston. 63% of students are labeled as economically disadvantaged and 36% are English language learners.
ii. During this process, I was able to effectively create an open enrollment system for all of the district’s pre-k options. Regardless of a student’s address they could now easily enroll in any pre-k site across the city that best met their needs.
iii. While addressing the open enrollment of pre-k options we were able to bring the entire district’s registration and enrollment system into the 21st century. Prior to this work all registration had to be completed in person on paper-based forms. We focused on making the process much more accessible. We moved the registration system to a computer-based system that could be accessed from home, any school in the district, and all other locations with public computer access. This system enabled us to provide forms in all languages to our families.
Define educational and racial equity. How will you use an equity lens in your policy decision-making? If you have a specific example of an equitable/inequitable policy directly related to Austin ISD, please include it here.
Educational equity is ensuring that regardless of a student’s race (racial equity), family income, ability, and self-identities there are no predictable outcomes or results regarding a student’s education. Equity includes, but is not limited to, access to schools and programs, discipline rates, tracking, identification of special needs, dropout rates, attendance rates, graduation rates, funding allocations, school closures/changes, etc. I will focus every decision I make as a trustee on equity in relation to student outcomes.
Within AISD, I always work to think critically with an equity lens while serving on the Boundary Advisory Committee. Having the boundary discussion separate from the school closures discussion felt very wrong given the valid emotions behind both. My experiences on this advisory committee served to push me into this campaign for the Austin ISD Board. Addressing the issue of equitable access to schools and programs in AISD means addressing how we think about enrollment. That starts with repairing a broken transfer system.
Additionally, we must engage in a comprehensive equity audit, managed by a third-party. A well-designed audit should address at least three key elements of the system's logic model: the inputs the system deploys, the outputs the system creates from the implementation of inputs, and the realized outcomes measurable at the end of each cycle. This equity audit must explore and directly address inequities related to race, income, ability, and self-identities. This process should have been started months ago and using the shutdown as an excuse for why it could not begin tells me that the current board and administration is not clear on how an audit is conducted and willfully did not prioritize it. This process will create a systematic way for school leaders – principals, the superintendent, curriculum directors, teacher leaders, etc. – to assess the degree of equity or inequity and implicit bias present in written policies, practices, and procedures.
I support anti-racism and cultural proficiency in AISD administrators, staff, and teachers. I would specifically support the adoption of a Framework like the Massachusetts Framework for Safe and Supportive Schools in order to ensure that we had a clear method of accountability for all in adopting a continuous improvement mindset. The adoption of any Framework or method of accountability would go through a rigorous community vetting process to ensure all voices are codified in the work. Further, I believe the district has an obligation to bring as many people and organizations into the conversation of what it means to maintain a safe and supportive environment. That includes bringing in after school providers, emergency first responders, pediatricians, etc. into key conversations.
What would you do to ensure that any future school closures will be equitable?
First, we need to address why we get to the place of needing to close schools when some schools in the district are seriously overcrowded. Having served on AISD's boundary advisory committee and done some work professionally around this with districts, I see it as a side effect of strict attendance boundaries as a primary reason we are constantly needing to address over and under-enrollment in individual campuses. If we actually took the time to listen to student, family, and community demands we could create options across our city that appeal to a much broader population of students. By focusing on the needs and demands of these groups and creating a flexible but well-structured enrollment system we could avoid many over and under-enrollment issues in the first place. However, as district-wide enrollment shifts, we will see the need to either build new schools or repurpose existing schools with a focus on student and community needs. Simply, school closures need to be done with our communities not to them and we must ensure that no group is significantly over-represented in a closure. That being said, I think we also need to consider how a closed school building can continue to be used as a neighborhood community center following any closure.
In preparation for this position, what have you learned about the history of Austin, particularly the reality and legacy of the 1928 city charter and previous efforts at desegregation in AISD? What work, if any, should or must be done BEFORE any efforts at integration are undertaken?
The 1928 Austin City Master Plan was overtly used to systematically remove Black citizens from land that white citizens wanted downtown and other desirable locations. The area currently east of I-35 was designated as a “negro zone” and the city sought to engineer city services, including schools, to force Black citizens to relocate. This reality was overt, systemic, institutional racism. The legacy of this and subsequent actions by the city government are still clearly present today.
Austin ISD is a segregated school district. While around 54% of enrolled students are identified as economically disadvantaged, only 3 of our 130 schools are within 5 percentage points of this balance. 43 of our 130 schools maintain an enrollment of over 90% economically disadvantaged students and 10 of our schools maintain an enrollment of less than 10% economically disadvantaged students. This correlates directly with the racial segregation in our city. The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling did not seem to change much in Austin’s schools in practice. In response to a federal lawsuit in the early 1970s, AISD adopted mandatory one-way busing in 1971. Two-way bussing was implemented in 1979 and lasted until 1986 when court supervision ended.
There is a difference between actively integrating schools and actively eliminating systems and structures that serve to prevent organic integration. I would say that we need to first address those clear barriers and systems of segregation before making any plans for active integration. I believe these systems are so clear that they can and should be addressed while an equity audit is taking place and that there is no need to wait for the audit to be completed. Having served on the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee, I feel confident in stating that the purpose of the committee (and attendance boundaries in general) is to justify the perpetuation of racial and economic segregation. Our school system is not capable of solving all of society’s problems but it surely does not need to perpetuate those issues. Our schools are segregated because our homes and neighborhoods are segregated. A student’s address should not be the most important variable in determining what school or program a student has access to. Their needs and interests should be at the top of that list. Change must be pragmatic and intentional for it to be effective and sustainable. With that being said, I am a strong advocate for a complete redesign of our district’s transfer policies as the first step towards equitable access and opportunities. Any student that transfers to a school with the need for transportation must have it offered. Options and choices without transportation are only options and choices for the wealthy.
Which policies do you support to improve diverse teacher recruitment, retention, and compensation in Austin ISD and how would you reward and retain teachers who demonstrate their proficiency in the classroom?
Many of the issues that I have experienced with recruitment in school districts relates to systems and timelines. My experience includes moving up the timeline for recruitment and hiring but to do this well you must also have a better understanding of what positions will need to be filled. I am a proponent of incentivizing teachers who may retire or resign to give notice much earlier than they normally would. This change gives a district like Austin the ability to be much more strategic in recruitment efforts and provides time to effectively recruit more educators of color. It allows the district to compete with state-authorized charters for the highest quality teachers. Additionally, we must intentionally recruit potential teacher candidates from HBCUs and HSIs and it should not be limited to schools in the Central Texas region. We must take advantage of the fact that Austin is a very desirable city to move to and work in to create conditions that would entice new and experienced teachers from across the country to come and educate our students.
Our teachers are our first responders in schools, and they need to be treated as such. At every level, teachers must be supported with differentiated professional development opportunities that they take part in designing and self-selecting in collaboration with their school leaders. Differentiation here means ensuring that we are supporting each teacher where they are in their development and not assuming that they all need the same support. While it goes without saying that teacher pay is hideously disrespectful across the board, we must acknowledge that every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets. In this case, the system has almost always been designed to increase teacher pay in seniority based steps and despite our best efforts at the state (which we shouldn’t stop) they will likely never increase overall teacher pay to a proper level. We must rethink the system. If we want different results, there is no status quo stone that should remain unturned. While I am an advocate for rethinking the teacher pay structure, this conversation should take place with teachers, teacher leaders, school leaders, unions, and other critical stakeholders. I believe that one way to begin to move beyond a seniority-based system that values the unique skills different teachers bring to the table is to create additional positions besides the common master teacher position. There should be a mechanism for promoting a highly effective teacher without removing them from the classroom.
How would you ensure that schools implement fair and unbiased disciplinary policies district-wide?
There are several levers that need to be addressed here from top to bottom. We must ensure that any equity audit includes a deep review of every active and codified policy on the books in AISD which includes the discipline policies. Language in policies and procedures must ensure that no student group is intentionally or unintentionally targeted. This must be done at every level of bureaucracy in the district and each school and include a collaborative review process with local and national organizations focused on this work. In an anti-racist system, we must also address the ability of individual staff members who may have racist beliefs, at worst, or implicit biases, at best. Our processes must include checks and balances so no individual can infringe on the rights of any student.
What is your background and knowledge of the complexities of special populations of students in Austin ISD and what programs/policies do you support to serve these students? Please address specific special populations of students, including special education students, bilingual/ELL students, low-income students, and Black, Indigenous, and students of color.
We must give students and families a voice and guarantee equity in access and opportunities for all, regardless of race, income, ability, & self-identities. I am a proponent of creating and implementing a cyclical school redesign process that brings the voice of every special population to the table. This inclusion is critical since the system at its foundation was built without their voice and was designed to uphold a white middle- to upper-class power dynamic. I am running to represent all of the Austin ISD, and I recognize that I will have to go further than most because of my background to prove that I am a champion and advocate for every student.
For our students of varying abilities, we need to first understand that providing special education services is about more than just meeting federal and state legal/reporting requirements. We need to focus on providing differentiated quality education to all students regardless of ability. We are already othering students by grouping and tracking within General Education and Special Education when we should be talking about this in terms of specialized instruction. We should be talking about how we work towards providing developmentally appropriate education to all students in an environment that works to continuously become less restrictive with careful planning to incorporate teacher, student, and family support.
I am not familiar with all of the details around the current Special Education situation (described by many I have spoken to as a crisis) in AISD. However, I have already begun speaking with parent and community advocates and I look forward to learning more as I speak with various educators and more community members. My goal as a trustee will be to listen, learn, and be a trusted advocate who is committed to inclusion and continuous improvement.
It was great to see Austin ISD as one of the ten leading districts in the nation with the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative. Sadly, that initiative lost momentum after President Obama left office. There are many ways that we can encourage the best works of MBK to continue in the district. For example, we know that Hispanic and African American males are more likely to drop out of school. We need to further develop and enhance systems to ensure that our schools develop the necessary and wanted support to engage and educate all students. By offering additional school options and customized community centers across AISD with a focus on neglected neighborhoods, we can provide greater opportunities for BIPOC students and families.
My own experience as a district administrator was in a district with 31% of students being English Language Learners and 71% of students identifying a language other than English as their first language. While the vast majority of those students identified Spanish as their first language, it highlighted the need for a district to go well beyond just translation and bilingual education as the means for creating equitable access to the district for students and families identifying any language as their first. This includes enrollment and registration supports, intentional school visits at the families’ convenience, access to additional learning time in math and English literacy, and first access to the highest quality early childhood educational options available. AISD’s equity audit must identify every area where the district can improve access and opportunities, regardless of a student’s or family’s native language.
Finally, as a heterosexual, cisgender, white male, I do not have all of the answers here and am interested in creating a system that is flexible in design to ensure we can structurally meet the equitable needs of every student. I look forward to using my privilege and experience in navigating our inequitable systems to help elevate and prioritize the voices of all marginalized people into spaces where they have been frequently overlooked and ignored. I commit to establishing community based working groups and listening over talking while using the skills I’ve developed in my career to govern the operationalization of the great ideas that have been and will continue to come from across our communities. I believe we need to establish a clear, accessible, and secure community voting/feedback system to bring in community feedback more formally.
Acknowledging the requirements of state accountability and the need for student data, what other ways can and should student success be measured or determined? Have you had professional experience with creating and implementing more well-rounded assessment strategies in your previous roles? Please give examples.
We must begin with an honest and open conversation about what we mean by “student success”. We should work together to objectively define student success and explicitly seek to measure against that definition. I believe any measure of success must look at post-secondary access and opportunities. The only true way to look at this is longitudinally across graduating classes because we know that what students accomplish after graduating from school is more important than what they accomplish on a test while in school. As a former teacher, I have seen growth in my students that did not result in an improved score on a state assessment and vice versa. Standardized tests only tell one part of the story and are often difficult tools to assess across subgroups based on race, income, and ability. Unfortunately, any measure used at the federal, state, or even district-wide level has a likelihood of becoming “standardized” in a way that perpetuates inequity. I am a proponent of local accountability systems where AISD would design and develop an accountability system for ourselves that makes sense based on the local context and is done in a way that preempts any state intervention. I would further push this concept out to our schools to best understand how student success should be measured. It is important that this still results in a highly transparent system that values accountability with clear actions to be put in place depending on goal progress. Some examples of measures that could be included in an AISD designed accountability system include, where students go after they leave our schools, parent and student satisfaction, and student access to programs and extracurricular. This is just a start and all of these measures must be analyzed across our subgroups based on race, income, ability, and self-identities. Professionally, I have worked with several districts to support their own designs of a local accountability system or school performance framework. Any step forward must be done transparently and with the support of the community.
Do you see charters fitting into AISD’s landscape? Why or why not? Do you feel that partnerships under SB 1882 are a viable strategy to support a school community? Why or why not?
I think this question overlooks the fact that charters are already a major part of the Austin education landscape. Therefore, the short answer to the question is yes, I do see them fitting in because they are already here. As a candidate for the AISD Board of Trustees, it is undoubtedly a goal of mine to see students who once left the district for a state-sponsored charter option re-enroll in an AISD school. I believe this district’s administration and board members have not appropriately engaged in the actions I think it would take to work towards a re-enrollment goal. Every time I hear one of our trustees or administrators blaming state-sponsored charter schools for reducing enrollment in AISD what I really hear is systematic judgment placed on those families who have left to feel bad about themselves. Frankly, any parent who makes a decision that they think is in the best interest of their child should not be vilified. Additionally, this type of blaming projects the problem away from us as trustees, administrators, and candidates. Charters don't "steal" students, WE (AISD) loses them. If we really did want to bring students back into the district, we would pay much closer attention to why students are leaving in the first place and what the allure of the other option is to them. We would learn from those lessons and course correct our own operations accordingly.
I believe SB 1882 partnerships have the potential to be an effective tool to improve access and opportunities for students. Like any tool, it is only effective when used appropriately and intentionally. I would not use the experience at Mendez Middle School as an example of the effective use of this tool. The district did not want to do it and thus it could never be successful. This partnership was the result of a last-ditch effort by the district to not be taken over through the state’s accountability laws. Change that is not desired will never be effective or sustainable. For me, a strong use of the 1882 partnership tool is to fill specific gaps in the district’s capacity to provide certain programs and options to students and families. The board approved partnership with EasterSeals is a good example of a positive use case benefitting an overlooked student population in the district. No school district can be perfect at internally providing every needed option all of the time for every student and these partnerships have the ability to solve that issue. For example, there are many community-based organizations that are able to offer a higher quality early childhood education because that is all they do. It is all they spend their time seeking to improve practice in. Rather than spending the time, money, and effort trying to build an internal system it may be more prudent for a district to establish a partnership with an organization that is capable of coming in for that need. At the end of the day, partnership schools are AISD schools with AISD students and are held to the same, if not stricter, accountability standards. Anyone willing to completely remove a tool that could have positive impacts on students and families is not someone who is making decisions that prioritizes students.
What are your current thoughts on how the budget is allocated and how would you change it, if at all, to support the students who need resources the most? How would you determine the best way to allocate resources?
The current system for most of the school funding in AISD is based on an antiquated staffing allocation formula depending upon the student population in each building. I am a proponent of a thoughtful and well-designed student-based budgeting system to enable a more transparent and equitable.
In a student-based budgeting system, the district can use a weighted student formula as a way of allocating the district’s resources to schools based on assigning weights to student needs. Weights are assigned to student characteristics, identities, and needs and applied district wide. Examples include grade level, English Language Learners, student ability and severity, and poverty level, etc. The greater the need, however that is determined in collaboration with the community, the higher the weight. A per pupil amount would be calculated based on the total pool of funding allocated to schools and the total weighted enrollment. Schools would then receive a budget based on their projected enrollment multiplied by the associated student per pupil amounts. Allocations are not based on what schools have historically received or a staffing allocation model. Principals then have the opportunity to create budgets to be within their total allocation, including staffing, and non-salary costs. To increase allocations, schools would have to increase overall enrollment and/or serve more students with greater needs. This system creates a more transparent and equitable approach by funding students--not buildings, not adults--but students and where they go to school. Creating a student-based funding system would require a significant investment in systems and professional development (enrollment projections, scenario planning, and principal training) prior to launching but given the sincere focus on dismantling inequities within our system, it is likely worth it.
What metrics should we be looking at to determine student and district success and to guide the policy decisions that the Austin ISD board makes?
We must begin with an honest and open conversation about what we mean by “student success”. We should work together to objectively define student success and district success and explicitly seek to identify clear metrics and measure against that definition. I believe any measure of success must look at postsecondary access and opportunities. The only true way to look at this is longitudinally across graduating classes because we know that what students accomplish after graduating from school is more important than what they accomplish on a test while in school. As a former teacher, I have seen growth in my students that did not result in an improved score on a state assessment and vice versa. That being said, it is still important to measure some common assessments, so we can confirm where academic gaps exist. I am a proponent of local accountability systems where AISD would design and develop an accountability system or school performance framework for ourselves that makes sense based on the local context and needs of the community and is done in a way that preempts any state intervention and in accordance with current laws (HB 22-85R). I would further push this concept out to our schools to best understand how student success should be measured. It is important that this still results in a highly transparent system that values accountability with clear actions to be put in place depending on goal progress. Some examples of measures that could be included in an AISD designed accountability system include, where students go after they leave our schools, student mobility, parent, and student satisfaction, and more. These metrics are just a start and all these measures must be analyzed across our subgroups based on race, income, ability, and self-identities. Professionally, I have worked with several districts to support their own designs of a local accountability system or school performance framework. Any step forward must be done transparently and with the support of the community.
From a policy perspective, how would you leverage HB3 to benefit Austin ISD?
Although all teacher salaries increased via the minimum salary schedule (MSS), consider rewarding AISD’s most effective teachers by paying them up to six figure salaries via the teacher incentive allotment. The district’s initial approach to the TIA was misguided and unprofessional and did not meet the rigorous bar of other districts throughout the state. You cannot just apply for a grant and believe you are entitled to it. System change takes time and effort. It should be a board priority to pass policies that enable staff to develop a strong, aligned system so teachers can earn the salary they deserve from the TIA.
Bring childcare services, full-day Pre-K and drop-out prevention services to the lowest income neighborhoods in the district (using the state’s socioeconomic block system) via increases in comp ed funding. Set up a comp ed advisory committee to determine where these funds should go.
Make free full-day Pre-K a reality for every eligible student in the district by taking advantage of the early education allotment, Use the funds to support the creation of early childhood literacy and mathematics proficiency plans. Also use the funds to send all new teachers to reading academies.
Maximize AISD revenues by crafting a solid CCMR readiness plan. For every economically disadvantaged student who graduates CCMR ready, that results in $5,000. Non economically disadvantaged students graduating CCMR ready results in $3,000. Calculate this potential funding increase by identifying the number of seniors in AISD district to see how much funding AISD could earn if they graduated each of these students CCMR ready.
Create more innovative high school models (P-STEM, P-TECH, early college high schools, etc.) using the CTE allotment to build on existing areas of excellence in the district since some of this work has already been taking place.
Do you believe supporting the development of native languages other than English is a civil right? If so, how would you support this right as the superintendent or trustee of AISD? Please give examples.
Student’s in Austin should never be made to feel ashamed to speak their native language or embrace their native culture. However, We need to acknowledge that if the purpose of public education is to equitably prepare all students for success (assuming in the United States) after graduation then that means ensuring that they graduate with the ability to communicate effectively in English. I do believe that AISD should offer reasonable access to courses or programs that provide native language (especially where there is a sizable cluster of students who speak the same language) and cultural learning if requested. There are best practices that indicate that a student who is simultaneously supported to grow in the native language and in English achieves better success, so I support language programs where they work for students.
Do you support the implementation of a dual language model (target language taught at least 50/50 with English until 5th grade and beyond) throughout and across AISD schools? Why or why not? How would you respond to district or campus administration that believes in a different model?
AISD has been a statewide leader in establishing dual-language schools, which is a rightful point of pride for the district. Before we further expand this programming, we should do an assessment of which campuses are implementing this model with fidelity. Some parents will want to enroll their students in dual language programming, and every parent who wants that option should have access to it regardless of their home address. However, since not every family will request dual language options, it should not be mandatory across the district. It is more important to have a dual-language program that is embraced by the campus community rather than one that is forced by the central office, and that goes for any program model or academic option. Although dual language has been shown to be an immensely powerful tool for student learning, there is no “one right model” in education. However, this district has the resources to provide for many options. If after following a collaborative process, a determination is made to place a dual language program, or any program, at a particular campus it is expected that the district administration will ensure an appropriate school leader is appointed to that campus.
As superintendent or trustee, how would you address problems with the manner and extent to which AISD currently provides federally mandated special education services to qualified students? Please provide at least one specific example of how you have improved special education delivery in your previous experience and one specific idea of how you would work to improve trust between families and AISD staff and administration.
We need to first understand that providing special education services is about more than just meeting federal and state legal/reporting requirements. We need to focus on providing a differentiated quality education to all students regardless of ability. We are already othering students by grouping and tracking within General Education and Special Education when we should be talking about this in terms of specialized instruction. We should be talking about how we work towards providing developmentally appropriate education to all students in an environment that works to continuously become less restrictive with careful planning to incorporate teacher, student, and family supports.
I am not familiar with all of the details around the current Special Education situation in AISD. However, I have already begun speaking with parent and community advocates and I look forward to learning more on the campaign trail, as I speak with various educators and more community members. My goal as a trustee will be to listen, learn, and be a trusted advocate who is committed to inclusion and continuous improvement.
What is your opinion about law enforcement in public schools? What problems are districts trying to solve by having School Resources Officers (SROs) or law enforcement in schools?
My opinion is that there are many differing opinions and facts that need to be considered. I was able to meet with Chief Ashley Gonzalez of the AISD Police Department earlier this summer, and we spoke about our differing and aligned philosophies. We both agree that at the root of this whole conversation is the fact that effective learning is not possible when students feel unsafe. However, we must acknowledge that there are students and families who feel unsafe by having armed officers within our buildings. With this acknowledgement, we cannot simply state that the police are there for safety which is what districts are attempting to solve for by having police present. I personally believe that we must find the pragmatic approach to this and that starts with exploring the idea that it might be appropriate to remove armed and uniformed police officers from within buildings and focus their mission on ensuring the perimeters of every building are secure. We should also look at intelligence gathering processes and seek to reallocate police funds to identify possible issues before they happen as prevention should be the priority. All of this work must be done in partnership and collaboration with students and families. Until we hear from them, we can only make assumptions.
What are your thoughts on true, affordable housing on AISD lots? Do you have experience with partnering with city or county governments, intergovernmental agencies, or organizations to create affordable housing to serve school district families?
Traditionally, it has not been the job of school districts to provide affordable housing, but with rapidly increasing prices in Austin, it may be right for the district to be involved here. Much of the affordable housing in our city is not real affordable housing as I have seen college-educated friends slip through loopholes to obtain affordable housing where they should have not been the intended population. I would promise to fairly evaluate proposals for affordable housing in the district, and overall, I support greater density construction in the city, so that Austin can become more affordable. I do not personally have experience with creating affordable housing. However, I have been involved in discussions with multiple superintendents that were interested in creating affordable subsidized housing options for teachers as home prices within the district often excluded teachers based on income. As Austin continues to increase in cost and teacher pay remains miserably too low, this is a conversation that will need to occur in the next four years.
What is your experience addressing issues of under-enrolled and over-enrolled schools? What strategies did you use to address these challenges, and why?
Having served on AISD’s boundary advisory committee and done some work professionally around this with districts, I see this as a side effect of strict attendance boundaries as constantly needing to address over and under enrollment in individual campuses. If we actually took the time to listen to student, family, and community demands we could create options across our city that appeal to a much broader population of students. By focusing on the needs and demands of these groups and creating a flexible but well-structured enrollment system we could avoid many over and under enrollment issues in the first place. However, as district wide enrollment shifts, we will see the need to either build new schools or repurpose existing schools with a focus on student and community needs.