AISD vs. ESAC: "We'll Do It Ourselves'

The East Side Social Action Coalition remains unimpressed by the school district's promise to reform itself.

In its report evaluating the Edison Inc. proposal, the AISD District Advisory Committee admitted the district badly needs reform, but told Superintendent Pat Forgione "there is a widely held sentiment that we should 'do it ourselves,' rather than relying on outside experts or packaged programs. The district knows what to do and how to do it."

With that, the board commissioned another report, due some time in April, that will outline the problem with low-performing East Austin Schools and propose another solution. The DAC's suggestions included financial incentives to recruit teachers to low-performing campuses, as well as merit pay for effort and effectiveness in improving student performance and professional development courses.

Rev. Sterling Lands and the Eastside Social Action Coalition received the district's vote of confidence in itself very skeptically. "We don't think they know what to do," Lands says. "We don't think they have the people in place to do what needs to be done."

Lands says the Coalition is solidifying a plan that would withdraw members' children from the district and form a charter school. It's a threat the organization has made before. More than a year ago, the Coalition presented the school board with a list of 20 demands, concentrating on increasing academic performance among minority students and decreasing the disproportionate number of minority students assigned to special education classes or subject to disciplinary measures like in-school suspension. At the time, the Coalition said if its demands weren't met, 600 or so members would take their children out of the school system.

School board president Kathy Rider acknowledged the legitimacy of some of the Coalition's complaints (like over-representation of minorities in "alternative learning centers"), dismissed others (like "100% parity and equity of all resources at all East Austin schools by August 2001," which Rider said already existed by law), and promised conversations with the Coalition would continue. Eighteen months later, Lands is saying, "We are doomed if we stay in this district. We have already said to the district, 'Look, if you're not going to educate our kids, we'll do it ourselves.'"

This time, Lands says, the ESAC is considering the possibility of bringing legal charges against the district, based on AISD's new claim that a plan for reforming East Austin schools can be drawn up by April and implemented by next fall. "If the superintendent and staff can say, 'We know what to do and we'll have it by spring,' then what you're telling me is that over the last 10 years as my kids have been dying in your system, you sat by and let them die and you knew what to do," Lands says. "That is just criminal."

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AISD, Edison Inc., Patrick Forgione, Sterling Lands, Eastside Social Action Coalition, Kathy Rider

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