Farewell to Forgione

On AISD superintendent's last day, some thoughts from someone who knows him

Malfaro (l) on Forgione:
Malfaro (l) on Forgione: "His tenure was a positive one" (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

There's a running joke amongst education writers that hell will freeze over before an education union chief says something nice about their superintendent.

Break out the parkas and scarves, it's about to get chilly in here.

Talking to Education Austin President Louis Malfaro, the issue of outgoing Superintendent Pat Forgione came up, and his old union nemesis had this to say. "To give him his due, Pat Forgione put Austin on the map. His tenure was a positive one."

With the district's head honcho heading out the door for the last time today, to be replaced in the morning by Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, Malfaro had some thoughts about his tenure. "He cut a high profile nationally because he'd come from a national position. He wasn't a parochial guy who'd worked through one district," he said.

When asked to sum up his management style and educational philosophy, Malfaro said, "Forgione was all about uniformity. 'We have too much e pluribus and not enough unum,' that was one of his favorite terms. The way he enforced the unum on the schools was through the curriculum people. The testing, and the instructional planning guides, and the intervention."

The downside, Malfaro added, was that "there hasn't really been much of a stomach for looking at schools and saying, 'This school isn't doing very well, what do we have to do?'"

With Carstarphen exhibiting a more campus-by-campus, teacher-by-teacher approach, he said, "My people are excited about having a little more flexibility, having a little bit more ability to be creative and innovative, to have more decision-making devolved down."

But Carstaphen is a tactician and Forgione has always been a strategy-level guy. His skill, Malfaro argued, was that "he could put his finger up and tell which way the wind was blowing." For example, "He nailed that [Bill Gates] school redesign grant" that brought in $15.6 million for the district.

Ultimately, Forgione took over a district in economic freefall and with a shocking record on integration (it was, as Malfaro noted, the last ISD in the nation to undergo court-appointed busing). He leaves it having fended off a state legislature and governor that did everything to public education bar set the hounds loose on it. Moreover, he kept it financially stable, all the while keeping keeping public school enrollment high.

All in all, Malfaro argued, the district could be in far worse shape, and credit in part has to go to Forgione and former Chief Financial Office Larry Throm. "I know we move more people each day than Capital Metro. I know we feed more people every day than all the fast food restaurants in the city combined." He called the lift that the district gives to the city "amazing. You don't read about a lot of snafus and problems in transportation, you don't hear about food services."

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AISD, Pat Forgione, Education Austin, Meria Carstarphen, Louis Malfaro

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