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Austin ISD parents, advocacy groups ask district for slower superintendent search; calling it 'concerning'

In a letter to the AISD board of trustees, hundreds of parents, educators and organizations said they feel "shut out and marginalized" by recent AISD actions.

AUSTIN, Texas — Hundreds of parents, educators, community members and grassroots organizations said in a letter to the Austin ISD Board of Trustees that they're concerned with AISD's actions when searching for a new superintendent to take Dr. Paul Cruz's place in August. The letter states the recent actions have "highlighted long-standing inequities and resulted in a loss of trust in current leadership."

The letter shows advocates are concerned about the district's commitment to equity. It also offers recommendations on how to be transparent with AISD parents. 

RELATED: Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz announces resignation for job at UT Austin

That list of suggestions includes:

  • Increase transparency in all activities and decision-making
  • Lead with an equity lens in decision-making and resource distribution
  • Engage the community in authentic communication
  • Adopt recommendations outlined at the close of the letter

The advocates claim the superintendent search is happening in a "drastically shortened time frame during an unprecedented pandemic [that] underscores Austin’s digital divide and greatly limits the public’s ability to participate in this important decision."

"I was just getting tired of attending all of these sessions that the district would schedule and not feeling like I was impacting the process," said Cuitlahuac Guerra-Mojarro with the East Austin Coalition for Quality Education. "When I got included into the group and I kind of saw what the letter was about, I really got excited because it's a way to document what the community is expecting, and thus hold accountable the district and the school board."

AISD is inviting students, staff and community members to participate in one of two virtual listening sessions regarding the superintendent search on Wednesday, May 27, at 6 p.m. and Thursday, May 28, at 7 p.m. The school district said both sessions will be streamed live on AISD.TV and Facebook Live.  

Guerra-Mojarro said those sessions aren't enough.

"It was just that rapid succession of public announcement. The board found a search firm, I have concerns about the search firm's credibility and the lack of demonstrated equity mindset from the CEO. Then, the fact that we're going to do community engagement during a pandemic," added Noelita Lugo with Save Austin Schools. "All of that converged and, to me, it demonstrated the problems that, again, they're not the symptoms, they're the cause. It's [a] lack of transparency, [a] lack of authentic community engagement and then not putting into action what they say they're behind. The values and the guideposts that AISD and the board profess, they're just not doing it."

So, what would parents like to see in the next superintendent?

"Someone who can address inequities, someone who knows the district, someone who's not currently working in the district and someone who can rebuild the schools and academics and programs," Guerra-Mojarro said. 

"What I would love to see in the next superintendent is, first and foremost, that experience with direct education. Ideally, somebody who's been an educator, been in classrooms," Lugo said. "If not that, then at least somebody who can get in there and really observe and listen to the experiences from teachers and understand the challenges that they're dealing with. But also somebody who can come in and have the courage and the compassion to tackle really difficult conversations and complex problems that have been around for decades."

The letter to the board claims virtual meetings are insufficient, website surveys are confusing and misleading and district leaders didn't do enough to get parents' input. It suggests the board should increase transparency in their decision making and make sure they're reaching out to every campus community, including the ones closing in 2020. 

Guerra-Mojarro and Lugo said they want to work with the district to make the superintendent search better and fair. 

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The Coalition for Special Education Equity in Austin ISD (CSEE) is the first signature on the letter. In a statement, they said:

"CSEE believes that AISD must take significant additional steps to address the needs of its students qualifying for special education and 504 services, including in the search for a superintendent. CSEE has requested that goals and measures specific to special education be added to the AISD strategic plan and to the AISD superintendent scorecard and should be considered in the search for a new superintendent. The district must make the inclusion of ALL students central to its educational models, including as part of remote learning and in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. CSEE believes that the superintendent search should be conducted after a third-party equity audit has been performed, with special education services central to its review, to adequately ensure that students qualifying for special education and 504 services are taken into account from the beginning by all general and special educators in AISD schools."

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The CSEE is a group of parents, educators and community partners working to improve the educational experience for children with disabilities. The coalition is focusing on inclusive practices, staff retention and recruitment, bilingual integration and open and transparent communication.

KVUE reached out to several AISD board of trustees and the school district for a comment regarding the letter. We received the following statement from the board: 

"We always appreciate feedback from the community.

The board of Trustees voted 9-0 to hire JG Consulting with a target that we hire our next highly qualified Superintendent no later than August 31st in light of the news Dr. Cruz will be leaving for a position at the University of Texas.

By comparison, in 2014, AISD had three days of community engagement in 8 months. This time, we are doing 8 weeks of community engagement over six months. So far, JG Consulting has held over 60 meetings in 3.5 weeks and listened to over 1,000 students, parents, teachers, staff and community members. We look forward to the public testimony on June 22 when we finalize our leadership profile which will be created based on community input.

Before the vote, there remain multiple engagement opportunities: tonight JG Consulting will host a Spanish language community listening session at 6pm, tomorrow an English language community listening session at 7pm, and Friday a meeting with Education Austin. JG Consulting is also meeting with our AISD advisory groups and in coordination with AISD Trustees, every school will be heard as well. In addition, AISD and JG Consulting maintain a Superintendent search website, continue to circulate a community input survey, and request input through the trustees@austinisd.org email account.  Every member of our community can share their thoughts on what is going well with AISD, what skillsets are needed for the next Superintendent, and any other suggestions or comments they would like to share."

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