Meet the New Boss (Not the Big Boss)

Pearce Middle School community hears more from Carstarphen, but still in the dark about Commissioner Scott

Superintendent Meria Carstaphen explains the options for keeping the lights on at Pearce (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

If Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott was trying to make AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's introduction to Austin as hard as possible, he couldn't have done a better job. The meeting at Pearce Middle School on Wednesday night to explain the options for the school he's closing went exactly as could be expected. The roughly 700 attendees and elected officials that crowded into the gym (including most of the Board of Trustees and Reps. Mark Strama and Valinda Bolton, D-Austin) listened as Carstarphen laid out the paths available and how hard fixing Pearce was going to be for everyone. It also fitted exactly with what Carstarphen told the Chronicle about her management style back in April: Get all the consultation done early and exhaustively, set the policy, then let her implement it. The problem, she explained, was that with 22 days before the new academic year, she needs clear community guidance now. To avoid mistakes, she had everyone fill in a worksheet stating their preference, from re-purposing to just closing the school (results of that are still pending). As AISD Director of Communications Andy Welch explained today, her relationship with Pearce is now "a matter of trust," but that could be in short supply. There was anger and frustration and fear in the room, and newcomer Carstarphen caught some of it. But the big question was simple: Who is Scott to tell them their school is failing?

AISD board members (l to r) Vince Torres, Lori Moya, Cheryl Bradley and Mark Williams (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

Scott has never been popular with teachers or, in fact, with a whole wing of the education establishment. Mainly that's because he has no classroom background. (Not that it's easy to find that out: His official biography on the TEA website completely ignores his career prior to 2003.)

Scott is a lawyer by training, and came to his current role (an appointed position) by working as a staffer to then-State (now Congressman) Sen. Gene Green on education finance policy.

He came back to Texas work in the TEA and has accelerated through the ranks, building his reputation as a curriculum standards (read: testing) maven. When he was appointed to become commissioner in 2007, it was to replace his old boss and former superintendent of Galena Park Independent School District Shirley Neeley. At the time, the common understanding was that she jumped while she was being pushed, and Gov. Rick Perry installed a more kindred intellect (gulp).

Constable Bruce Elfant joins the worried crowd at Pearce Middle School (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

But as has been noted before, Scott has put the district in an almost impossible position by giving them so little clear warning about his intentions for the school. It seems like there are two obvious options.

One: Scott realizes that it's impossible for the district to present, approve and implement a repurposing plan in 30 days, meaning Pearce is bound to close, or:

Two: Scott doesn't realize that the task he has set them is almost impossible if he's serious about getting the school re-opened for this academic year.

Either way, what does that say about his suitability and qualifications to head public education in this state?

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Texas Education Agency, AISD, Pearce Middle School, Meria Carstarphen, Robert Scott

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