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Disappointed In Portrayal

RECEIVED Fri., Sept. 6, 2013

Dear Editor,
    We were disappointed to see an incomplete portrayal of the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in The Austin Chronicle[“In the Name of Ann Richards,” News, Aug. 30]. Our devoted teachers and staff work diligently to assure the success of our wonderful students, in the spirit and values of Ann Richards. While we cannot comment on the claims made by a former employee, let us set the record straight on our application process, student retention, and teacher satisfaction.
    Our application process is transparent and fair. We are a public institution, accountable to the people of Texas, and any insinuation of favoritism is baseless. We have accepted students from all AISD elementary schools and at least 60% qualify for free or reduced-cost meals. Last year, 100% of our first graduating class was accepted to a four-year college or university. Seventy-three percent of them represent the first generation in their family to go to college.
    Student retention at a new and high-performing school is a priority, especially for one that specializes in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Our counselors and teachers engage students and families regularly, making every effort to help girls who are struggling so they can thrive. Still, some students transfer to other schools because they want more elective choices or their family has moved out of the district or they find the curriculum too challenging. No matter what, we consider every one of them to be part of our sisterhood.
    We are proud of the hard work, dedication, and energy of our teachers. We have one of the highest participation rates and scores in the district on anonymous teacher and staff satisfaction surveys. Indeed, 97% report that the school is a good place to work and learn and 95% report a shared vision with the leadership of the school.
    The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders is an exemplary school. We are pleased with our progress, but will continue to look for ways to improve as we learn and grow along with our extraordinary students.
Jeanne Goka
Principal, Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders
   [Richard Whittaker responds: I am extremely disappointed that Jeanne Goka describes the article as incomplete when AISD refused to let me talk directly to her. I initially requested interviews with her, Associate Superintendent of High Schools Edmund Oropez, and Chief Schools Officer Paul Cruz. I was promised interviews with both her and Cruz, which never materialized. I finally made an offer to the AISD Department of Communications and Community Relations that we would submit questions via email directly to her and Cruz. What we got back, after days of delay, was a mish-mash of answers via AISD Executive Director Alex Sanchez, with no real ability to clarify any points or follow up. I was told explicitly by Sanchez that I would not get direct answers from either Goka or Cruz. In fact, the district seemed far more interested in having me talk to the Ann Richards Foundation – an independent and unaccountable body – than to their own publicly employed and publicly accountable staff. I would be more than happy to talk to Ms. Goka and get her side of the story directly, and tried to do so on multiple occasions. Yet again, if she wants to talk, she can contact me via the Chronicle. I also encourage her and the PTSA – and our readers – to visit the forums on our website about this story. There are a lot of people who support what we published in that story, many with personal experience of the campus.]
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