AISD Redesign: Grazing and Gazing

The school district holds the second in a series of forums on curriculum reform

AISD's second forum on its planned high school "redesign" drew about 100 teachers and administrators to Austin High Tuesday night, where they broke into small groups to discuss ideas for better transitions from middle to high school, smaller learning communities, better career education, and having students choose a "major."

The event also drew a handful of students from Bowie High, who were earning extra credit in their politics class for the effort. Among them was Raul Perez, a dapper fellow with Elvis-esque sideburns, who made himself at home in the front row of a discussion of how to instill more rigor in the curriculum. The group was skeptical about many ideas, such as requiring four years of college-prep math ("We'd have to extend high school to eight years," said Austin High math teacher Mary Austin), and asking 14- and 15-year-olds to pick a major. "You can't just push students like cattle into a chute," said Perez. "You have to let them graze."

At times, the mostly cheery discussion got a little tense, such as when Austin and Perez agreed that "revising language arts" should mean more grammar and vocabulary drills, rather than simply reading literature. "If you don't develop a reading habit, you won't develop a vocabulary," answered former English teacher Everett Lunning, looking downright horrified. The principal leading the group defused the moment by sharing a story about a sitcom where one of the young characters had an extensive vocabulary that included "propinquity" and "superfluous." "I thought, 'How great would it be if all our kids knew those words?'" he said dreamily.

Lanier counselor Deloise Vasquez suggested that one problem was teachers' showing too many movies. "Just because you read Hamlet doesn't mean you have to watch the movie," she said. Perez announced he had just watched Hamlet in his class, and that he found it useful. "But I know what you mean," he conceded. "Sometimes it's just ... superfluous."

AISD will hold another round of discussions in February.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

public education, Austin ISD, Raul Perez, Mary Austin, Everett Lunning, Deloise Vasquez

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