Blueprint and Blues for AISD

The other shoe has dropped on AISD's Austin Blueprint Monday, as Supt. Pat Forgione announced the six schools to be included in his new program to improve school performance and student achievement. Three -- Dobie Middle School, and Blackshear and Oak Springs Elementaries -- had already been designated for the program as a consequence of remaining "low-performing" under Texas Education Agency standards. Forgione added borderline performers (on state-mandated tests) Pearce Middle School and Sims and Harris Elementaries to the group of East Austin schools, now all designated "Schools for Excellence."

Five of the schools have been assigned new principals (current administrators are eligible for reassignment), and all will be supervised by a newly appointed Blueprint director, current Hart Elementary Principal Claudia Toesak. "We will introduce some totally new approaches to instruction, new ways of doing things, new and higher expectations for students, teachers, and parents," Forgione announced. The principals will hire some new teachers, who must have at least two years teaching experience, and all teachers who join the program will be given additional training and support. AISD said that funding for the program will come from $1 million in federal education money, with additional grant money pending.

AISD's Board of Trustees quickly and unanimously approved the Blueprint schools, and thus far most community reaction has been positive. But it is has been decidedly mixed from Eastside residents, and on Monday Forgione was criticized sharply by representatives of the League of United Latin American Citizens, speaking on behalf of parents of students at Harris Elementary. Tony Diaz, LULAC director for Austin, said the parents objected to the reassignment of Harris Principal Sheila Guzman, and were considering legal action. Pointing to relatively low per-pupil district expenditures at the school, Diaz added, "According to the parents and teachers at Harris, what their children need is equity."

LULAC Deputy Director Olga Cuellar called the Blueprint a "knee-jerk reaction" to the demands of the East Side Social Action Coalition, an organization of African-American activists and parents working to improve the schools. And the Coalition has strongly criticized the Blueprint as too small and narrowly focused. In selling the program to the school communities, Forgione clearly has his work cut out for him. He will attempt to do so in campus meetings next week: Harris Elementary, Monday, April 29, 6pm; Pearce Middle School, Monday, April 29, 7:30pm; Sims Elementary, Wednesday, May 1, 6pm; Dobie Middle School, Wednesday May 1, 7:30pm; Blackshear Elementary, Thursday, May 2, 6pm; and Oak Springs Elementary, Thursday, May 2, 7:30pm.

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