AISD: Back to Basics
A vision for the district, and renaming Confederate schools
The success and well-being of students should be the top priority for the Austin Independent School District, its board of trustees agreed on Monday at the third in a series of retreats designed to lay the groundwork for AISD's next five-year strategic plan, effective in 2020.
Gathered in a conference room at the Central Library, trustees outlined four other core priorities that will serve as what they described as the district's "north star." Trustees agreed that the other district priorities (equity in student achievement across racial and socioeconomic divides; fostering a "culture of respect" in the district's schools and parent communities; teacher and staff retention; and responsible stewardship of the budget) would all help achieve the ultimate goal of student success.
Inevitably, the conversation soon turned to the district's budget. The district is $30 million in the hole after passing its 2018-19 budget, and ideas like teacher retention would likely be achieved through increased pay or benefits – line items that already swallow up most of the district's $1.4 billion budget.
But senior district staff, several of whom were in attendance on Monday, will now begin the arduous work of crafting a "strategic vision" capable of achieving the board's priorities. The price tag of that vision could vary widely depending on what district staff presents to the board, as Trustee Cindy Anderson pointed out: "Staff could come back with a package that costs $5 million and one that costs $50 million."
Gone With the Wind
AISD also released a list of potential new names for four of the five district facilities named after Confederate figures.
The Allan facility (John T. Allan, Confederate officer)
• Anita Ferrales Coy
Fulmore Middle School (Zachary Taylor Fulmore, Confederate soldier)
• Sarah Beth Lively
• Moon Tower
• South Congress
Sidney Lanier High School (Sidney Lanier, Confederate poet)
• North Central
• Diana H. Castañeda
• Lanier (no first name)
John H. Reagan Early College High School (John H. Reagan, Confederate postmaster general)
• Barack H. Obama
• Reagan (no first name)
Eastside Memorial High School, currently housed at Johnston High School (named for Confederate general Albert S. Johnston) was also tasked with recommending a new name, but that school's Campus Advisory Council asked for an extension to continue brainstorming. Notably, recommendations for Lanier and Reagan keep the same name, but disassociate from their Confederate namesakes. In a letter to the AISD School Renaming Task Force (because there must always be a task force), Lanier's CAC wrote that the name Lanier Early College High School was supported by "the majority of students [and] alumni, the community, and a large portion of current staff." The letter continues, arguing that Lanier is no longer linked to the Confederate writer; instead, it has "become a symbol of empowerment and inclusion." Similarly, the Reagan CAC reported that honoring the school's legacy by maintaining the "Reagan" part but dropping the "John H." part was favored by an "incontestably large margin" of the community asked to provide input.
The district has estimated that the name changes could cost around $322,000, and the board is scheduled to vote on them later this month.