A Kealing Compromise

District won't formally separate Kealing Middle School's magnet program from neighborhood school

A Kealing Compromise
Photo By John Anderson

More than a month of heated debate over the future of Kealing Middle School ended in compromise last Thursday, when Austin Independent School District Superintendent Pat Forgione announced that the district will not formally split Kealing's advanced-academic magnet program from the neighborhood school. Forgione told the school board in late January that he proposed to make the magnet a separate school with its own administration and Public Education Information Management System number – an indicator state and federal officials use for accountability.

The proposal ignited a fierce debate among faculty and parents. Parents divided into camps, between members of Kealing's vocal magnet-parent advisory group, or KMAG, who mostly supported the proposal, and parents of neighborhood students, who were mostly opposed. Responding to protests from parents and faculty and to two student-led walkouts, Forgione partially reversed his position. He announced the schools will not have separate PEIMS, but the district still plans to divide the administration responsibilities. "It's a victory for both sides of campus," said magnet parent Kevin Cole, who had opposed the separation.

The district will relieve embattled Kealing Principal Ron Gonzales of his authority for the magnet. While Gonzales will continue to be the principal over neighborhood students and faculty, the magnet's director will now report to Jim Granada, the district's director of advanced academic services. Gonzales' removal from the magnet comes partially as a concession to KMAG parents, who clamored for him to be reassigned earlier this year. A survey of Kealing teachers revealed a majority of the faculty – especially magnet teachers – expressed disapproval of Gonzales' management style. Teachers claimed he was too concerned with standardized test scores and not with providing students a quality education.

AISD board President Mark Williams said the administration has confidence in Gonzales. "Sometimes change is difficult, and you can rub people the wrong way. His style might not have been optimal for every parent and student." But Gonzales has been successful in the past at raising test scores in low-performing schools such as Riley and Harris elementary schools.

Cole said this debate has been an opportunity to clarify exactly what the district's vision for middle-school education is. "It forced a discussion that's important to the community," Williams said. Several parents and teachers are pushing for an alternative to more separation – one outcome of the debate was a proposal drafted by Kealing teachers, which called for allowing neighborhood students greater access to the magnet school's faculty and resources.

PTA President Diane York said the general consensus among teachers is they want Kealing to return to the way it was years ago, when teachers taught both magnet and neighborhood students. There is high demand for a more rigorous curriculum and better elective options, and neighborhood students shouldn't be left out, York said. "What I don't understand about AISD is they have 750 students applying for 300 slots. Why is AISD rationing that kind of rigor?"

Now that the debate on splitting the schools is apparently over – or at least interrupted – the district can focus on more critical issues, Williams said. "Hopefully we'll have some patience and perseverance. Time is going to be important. This is a compromise for everyone," Williams concluded. "No one got everything they wanted."

One Kealing student, Destiny Garza, who helped organize the student walkouts, said she's glad the district is keeping the schools together. "It's like the saying, 'United we stand; divided we fall.'"

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Kealing Middle School, Austin ISD, Pat Forgione, Mark Williams

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