The Austin Chronicle

Pearce To Reopen

By Richard Whittaker, August 4, 2009, 7:10pm, Newsdesk

After a month of upset, tears and politics, the good news: Pearce Middle School will re-open on August 24.

The day after the AISD Board of Trustees unanimously approved the campus repurposing plan, Education Commissioner Robert Scott gave it the nod. In his two-page letter, the Gov. Perry appointee said he is "granting the district's request to repurpose the facility, subject to continuing state oversight."

Scott has requirements. He still wants to approve the new staff and administration: He wants the district to work with the Texas Turnaround Center (which was already on the table); Plus, no child can be assigned to Pearce, but must choose to go there (also already in the plan).

He also offers to move the TEA management team off the campus if a liaison between the principal and AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen is appointed. At the moment, the nature of that liaison post seems a little unclear. Board Vice-President Vince Torres explained, "Sometimes management teams report directly to [Scott], and sometimes they report directly to the superintendent." Where exactly a liaison would fit into the management structure, and whether they were just an advisor or have some authority, will need more clarification.

The district now has to implement the plan, and the big challenge will be getting staff, especially a qualified principal. Torres put it bluntly: "Can we persuade anyone to take on the school with less than three weeks before the school year starts?"

Carstarphen's full statement after the jump.

We are, naturally, pleased with, and thankful for, Commissioner’s Scott’s letter this afternoon, approving our plan to reopen Pearce Middle School. The Commissioner said he was “granting the district’s request to repurpose the facility, subject to state oversight.” We have worked closely with the Texas Education Agency staff over the past few weeks, and I am grateful for the support that we have received from the Pearce community to move the proposal forward.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges ahead. Opening a fully-staffed school – with strong campus leadership and high quality teachers – on August 24 is critical to Pearce’s success. We will offer incentives; some very dedicated educators will take on the challenge. The research shows that the effectiveness of the classroom teacher is the most important factor in student success, and that the effectiveness of the school leader is critical to school success. We have to keep focused on what’s best for these students.

I want to thank the AISD Board of Trustees and the Pearce community, including students, parents and staff, for their faith in me as the new Superintendent. In our crucial July 15 meeting at the campus, the Pearce community gave AISD the go-ahead to develop a repurposing proposal and to negotiate that plan with TEA in order to keep Pearce open. The community gave us the space we needed to keep Pearce open and to come up with a plan that will serve Pearce students well.

I pledge that, with today’s approval of our plan, this partnership will not end. This Administration will continue to meet with the Pearce community to discuss full implementation of this plan throughout the school year. I also want to assure Pearce parents that, at Monday night’s Board meeting, we clearly heard about the support services you want to help ensure your children’s academic success.

Our challenges at Pearce are not isolated to that school—as Austinites, we all live in the Pearce community. Once this school year is underway, I commit to engaging in future conversations with the entire Austin community, so that we can discuss together how we can take all the schools and students of Austin to high levels of academic performance. We need to hold deep conversations about systemic academic improvements, working to make sure our chronically underperforming schools turn around, and that we support our successful schools too.

Implementation of a Comprehensive Strategic Plan, including academics, that matches this mindset is crucial, and will be the subject of all District planning this school year, and in the future.

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