Welcome to the District, Meria Carstarphen

AISD Board President Mark Williams lays out the scale of the new superintendent's Pearce problems

With apologies to John Byrne, Terry Austin and Jim Novak
With apologies to John Byrne, Terry Austin and Jim Novak

When retired AISD Superintendent Pat Forgione took over the district in 1999, he knew when he got off the plane what his big challenge was:

We were the first school district to be held unacceptable for poor data, and we'd been sued and indicted. So someone said, 'Dr. For­gione, what does this mean to you?' and I said, 'Well, I guess the honeymoon is over.'"
At least Commissioner of Education Robert Scott have waited a whole 24 hours before wrecking new Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's honeymoon by threatening to drop the axe on Pearce Middle School. Talking to AISD Board of Trustees President Mark Williams today, he pointed out the truth: No matter who is responsible for the problems, when it comes to fixing it, "The ball is in Carstarphen's court."

It's undoubtedly going to be a challenge that dominates her first month in the job. First off, Carstarphen's first major press conference as superintendent was held last Wednesday, and it was about Pearce. Second, her first major face-to-face with the public as superintendent will be about Pearce, in the school itself,at a public forum at 6.30pm on Wednesday, July 15. This isn't a honeymoon: This is a baptism by fire.

The process of creating a repurposing plan is going to be difficult. According to Williams, Scott has made his requirements for an acceptable realignment plan opaque: Carstarphen now has to work out what he'll want from a completely new school.

This is only complicated by the fact that the district is now operating on what Board Vice-President Vince Torres called "a skeleton crew." There are a lot of major stakeholders on vacation (Education Austin President Louis Malfaro is out of state on union business, the principals and half the central administration staff are on their scheduled break: Williams himself was in Georgia when the Scott letter arrived) and the same almost undoubtedly goes for the families of many students. Somehow, in this context, Carstarphen has to create a plan that isn't just acceptable to Scott, but to all the major stakeholders, and workable, and do it in about a month.

William's biggest concern is that this should be the time when Carstarphen finds her feet in a new district, with a different educational culture at both the state and local level to what she's used to in St. Paul, Minn. That's a huge task, and there are enough major issues, like the next budget, that she has to deal with before the first board meeting in August. He compares the pressure to last year, when the Johnston High repurposing swallowed the board's energy for months.

As for TEA's claim that this is solely the district's fault for not getting their plans in order, and the growing conspiracy theory that somehow the district really wanted Pearce closed for some nefarious scheme, there's a slight problem with that theory. It was Scott that set the timetable, Scott that demanded repurposing, and Scott that's threatening closure.

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Education Austin, AISD, Meria Carstarphen, Pearce Middle School, Mark Williams, Austin ISD

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