The Fog of Repurposing

AISD board president fits saving Pearce Middle School into the bigger district plan

AISD President Mark Williams:
AISD President Mark Williams: "It's one thing having the words, but we still need to interpret them." (Photo by John Anderson)

The Texas Education Agency has agreed to let Pearce Middle School re-open, but AISD is still working out exactly what that means. Board President Mark Williams explained, "Our team got the letter late yesterday afternoon, and they're still working on the details. It's one thing having the words, but we still need to interpret them."

The district has little time for clarification, and not much more to implement. While Education Commissioner Robert Scott has agreed to waive the 25% teacher retention cap and let successful teachers keep their jobs on a case-by-case basis, there's only a week to go before staff orientation. Williams noted, "The whole idea about the teacher hiring, and who gets to come and not come: those are some pretty big deals."

The other big issue is exactly how much state oversight there will be. Like Vice-President Vince Torres, Williams is still waiting to hear exactly what Scott wants from the proposed liaison to the school. With only 19 days before the school year begins and that scale of unresolved, Williams pondered, "Can we move fast, or are there steps that we have to take that will slow us down?"

The big takeaway from all this is that it's the start of a bigger process.

Scott has continued to savage the district for not fixing the East Austin schools: But the board is aiming to tackle the core educational problems of poverty, limited English proficiency, and high family mobility districtwide.

Historically, these issues are most obvious in East Austin but Williams warned against treating them as somehow endemic. "30 years ago, Reagan was a predominantly middle class school. Pearce too." The current problems, he said, are "not a forever thing: These demographic changes have happened over time." In the same time, there has been increasing poverty in South Austin, and a lot of "new roofs" in North Austin, he added.

In that context, it's going to be interesting to see how many successful projects at the new-look Pearce get transferred to other campuses, so the district can reach Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's stated plan of every child at or above grade level within three years. Considering how hard Scott is breathing down their necks (i.e. pretty hard, considering the district has cut its number of Academically Unacceptable schools and is itself classified Academically Acceptable) they may have to get pro-active.

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

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