AISD Notebook

The AISD Board of Trustees on Monday tackled two quite controversial issues: the district's "new" grading policy, and site acquisition for new schools south of the river.

AISD Superintendent Jim Fox gave the nod last month to some members of his inner circle, including Deputy Superintendent Kay Psencik, who abruptly implemented an interesting new regulation: No student in middle or high school was to receive a six weeks' grade lower than 50, no matter what. In direct opposition to current management theories, this decision was handed down without giving stakeholders -- namely, teachers -- an opportunity to buy into this new practice. And neither was any empirical evidence - numbers, anyone? -- furnished as a rationale.

Board members, however, pointed out that this was not an administrative regulation that AISD staff could undertake on its own. As a matter of fact, the district has a grading policy. And adopting policy is the board's job, not staff's, trustees said. Reading from a prepared statement, trustee Liz Hartman said, "Policy development and adoption should not be a process that fosters isolation and exclusion of the important stakeholders. I believe (in including) people from the beginning so that we do not have to continually react to decisions that (people don't understand)." She asked that the issue be placed as an action item on an upcoming agenda.

For their part, Fox, Psencik, and associate superintendent Darlene Westbrook were at pains to backtrack and admit that they had indeed erred in their judgment. Psencik and Westbrook said they are going to hold a meeting at every AISD high school to discuss the grading policy. "Wear your flak jacket," advised board president Kathy Rider.

The board also heard an information item from deputy superintendent A.C. Gonzalez, who is responsible for managing the district's $369 million bond program, on the movement to acquire land for new schools, often termed "relief" schools, somewhere in South Austin. But trustees Ted Whatley and Geoff Rips criticized the presentation as incomplete, and requested much more information from Gonzalez -- including maps that show where the contributing and recharge zones of the Edwards Aquifer fall in AISD, as well as where the city's Preferred Growth Corridor lies within AISD's boundaries.

Reading from a memorandum written by Edwards Aquifer Conservation District trustee Sue Johnson, Rips also promoted the notion that secondary schools, most especially, should be sited in a fashion designed to draw population in toward the city center rather than outward toward the suburban fringes. To accomplish this goal, Rips suggested, the district would need to reconfigure current attendance boundaries in Southwest AISD. But that's always a most thorny matter, and a subject around which AISD staff is steering clear at the moment.

Board discussion first revolved around whether Rips and Whatley should be piling on more work for Gonzalez (which was trustee Tom Agnor's point of view), but true to form, Hartman pointed out the board has no policy limiting the amount of information board members may request. But the quality of information is also at stake; look for many more battles like this in the weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, the bond program barrels on and AISD will proceed with scoping out parcels of land in Southwest Austin.

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