Austin ISD Position 8 runoff: Leticia Moreno Cabellero, Noelita Lugo describe the key issues facing students in the district

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AUSTIN ISD


After no candidate received 50% of the vote Nov. 3 in the race for at-large Position 8 on the AISD Board of Trustees, the election advanced to a runoff between the top two vote-getters, Leticia Moreno Caballero and Noelita Lugo. Registered voters who live anywhere within AISD's boundaries are eligible to vote.

More information on the runoff elections is available here. Early voting began Dec. 3 and election day is Dec. 15. Community Impact Newspaper asked AISD board candidates a series of questions this fall ahead of the general election, you can read the answers from Lugo and Moreno Caballero here.

BOARD OF TRUSTEES DISTRICT 8

















Noelita L. Lugo



Candidate bio: Coming from a working-class immigrant family that is both indigenous and Latino, Lugo said she was encouraged to excel in school and was the first in her family to graduate from college. With a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas, she said she has devoted her 20-year career working in state public policy focused on family-centered child support, workforce development partnership programs and young parent and fatherhood programs. She is a parent, and was an active member of the Pease Elementary School community before its closure.




What are the biggest challenges facing the district right now?



NL: Challenges and solutions include: Ensuring adequate resources—Provide strong legislative advocacy to increase funding and reduce high-stakes standardized testing. Maintaining enrollment during COVID—Base reopenings on public health data, continue enhancing online instruction, provide safe in-person instruction for students most in need. Rebuilding community trust—Commit to authentic communication/engagement for major decisions.


Improving equity districtwide—Conduct an equity assessment, implement actionable recommendations. Strengthening Special Ed—Improve services for, and treatment of, SpEd students, teachers, families.



How would you grade the district’s COVID-19 response so far and what, if anything, would you have done differently if on the board?



NL: Decisions based on science – Phased-in re-opening must be based on public health, scientific data, not arbitrary dates. Co-design with SpEd, DL educators – AISD executive admin should have & must include SpEd & DL educators through-out decisions about virtual & f2f instruction. Offer safe options – We cannot offer a one-size-fits all option. What might be marginally safe for some will be deadly for others. (Latino positivity rate 3.5% higher than non-Latinos).



Austin ISD voted to close four schools last fall as part of its school changes plan, with an assumption that another proposal for changes would be coming in 2020. How do you feel about the original plan, and what would you like to see going forward?



NL: The district paid for a school closures PR Plan (Arrow At Work) using funds from Austin Ed Fund. It should have spent time & energy prioritizing 2017 bond expenditures to replace HVACs, playground equipment, improving infrastructure at East Austin schools. The district’s communication was opaque & filled with buzzwords. Going forward, AISD & the board must work directly with impacted communities, not just select advisors -but the actual families who will be directly impacted by consolidations.



The district opened an equity office last year. How would you like to see the office used going forward?



NL: The board can set the expectation that equity office be fully staffed & funded, that the Chief Equity Officer be a stable position (AISD should executive a 2 to 3-year contract with Dr. Hawley), and the board should ensure that they are participating in on-going anti-racism and cultural proficiency training as well as calling upon the equity office to provide routine updates during board meetings. The board should pass district policies grounded in anti-racism –demonstrating equity in action, policies and practices.



How can the district better retain its students as charter schools and other options continue to get established in AISD?



NL: AISD must: Develop a strategic enrollment plan; Support campuses and partner with community organizations to reach families before pre-K and K; Recognize that families want quality instruction, qualified teachers, enriching academic offerings and well-maintained facilities; Advertise the district’s many outstanding programs; Expect trustees to actively engage in community outreach; Expand the ‘community school’ concept to provide wrap-around services for families at more campuses; Work with the city for more affordable family-friendly housing throughout the district.









Leticia Moreno Caballero



Candidate bio: As a parent of three and an AISD graduate, Moreno Caballero said she has been highly-involved with the district, including campus level volunteering at Baranoff Elementary, Bailey Middle School and Bowie High School. She has served on Baronoff’s PTA and Campus Advisory Council, and in 2015 was chosen as Tri-Chair for AISD’s Facility and Bond Advisory Committee. She also serves as Vice Chair of the Austin Ed Fund, and is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin.




What are the biggest challenges facing the district right now?



LMC: As a large urban school district, our biggest immediate challenge is educating our students in this COVID-19 environment safely. We must ensure safe protocols for our teachers, students and meet the academic needs of our students. AISD’s ongoing challenge continues to be building community trust. Our district must improve communications and engagement with students, employees, and families. The amount of money the district sends to the state under recapture is astounding. This year, AISD sent $681 million to the state. We must advocate for a school finance system that allows us to keep our public school dollars in Austin.



How would you grade the district’s COVID-19 response so far and what, if anything, would you have done differently if on the board?



LMC: The district’s response to COVID-19 lacks clarity and confidence and it has left both families and employees with more questions than answers. District administration did not lay out a clear plan early on that was based on data and metrics. This created many concerns about safety and learning. As a parent, I needed to hear plans early this summer so I could understand how remote learning would be enhanced and what safety protocols will be present once students transition back to school. As a board member, I would have urged a focus for an opening plan.



Austin ISD voted to close four schools last fall as part of its school changes plan, with an assumption that another proposal for changes would be coming in 2020. How do you feel about the original plan, and what would you like to see going forward?



LMC: The plan to close schools was not transparent. While some campuses had been engaged years earlier, the plan came as a surprise to several campus communities. This abbreviated and rigid engagement and quick decision-making caused pain for many families at those schools. The district should work with schools to understand the root causes of under enrollment and to implement innovative solutions to grow shrinking campuses. To turn this trend around, it will require meaningful community dialogue and consensus building, targeted investments, and a focus on strengthening academic outcomes at every AISD campus.



The district opened an equity office last year. How would you like to see the office used going forward?



LMC: The creation of an AISD equity office was a critical first step in addressing long-standing systemic inequities in the district. AISD should strive to provide each child what they need to develop their full academic and life potential in all AISD campuses. This will require an organizational culture that is aligned around action that is supported by policy decisions that will advance this mission. When our students succeed, we all succeed.



How can the district better retain its students as charter schools and other options continue to get established in AISD?



LMC: The district must do a better job of understanding and addressing why parents choose charter schools. There are drivers such as after school care, transportation, and flexibility that the district can no longer ignore and must address. AISD has many specialized academic programming and extracurricular activities that are not offered by charter schools but these are often not well-publicized or understood. AISD must work to improve its customer service and communications to ensure that parents who have that choice know what is available to them and that they will have a welcoming home in their neighborhood school.


By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


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