Austin ISD superintendent highlights priorities at annual staff convocation

At Austin ISD's all-staff convocation Aug. 21, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen spoke about priorities and professional development issues for the 2013–14 school year.

In her message to the district, Carstarphen highlighted the district's goals including cultivating "the whole child," shifting away from a culture based around high-stakes testing and instead building a college-ready culture. She also stressed the importance of offering a rich portfolio of education options and investing in its staff.

"We know that we have big work that we do day in and day out," she said after the convocation. "But every year is a little different because of what happens in the Legislature or the budget realities. Something always comes into play that changes our context a little bit, and that leads us to a very specific focus for that particular school year."

For 2013–14, Carstarphen said that focus will be split into key segments: dealing with state budget reductions, developing the district's facility master plan, implementing May 2013 bond projects, increasing AISD's focus on literacy and providing competitive compensation for staff. The district plans to maintain the one-time salary adjustment from the 2012–13 school year that is equivalent to a 3 percent pay increase for staff as part of its proposed fiscal year 2014 budget and add another 1.5 percent increase to that, she said.

"It is a balancing act, and it is so hard because you are constantly doing tradeoffs between two or three good things. So you have to be very disciplined. We go back time and time again to the strategic plan, what the community wanted, what the board has set as goals, and you stay focused and true to those guiding stars in the sky and then let go of some things," she said. "There are things that we can do that are within our control It's a worthy tradeoff to ensure that we keep the best teachers in front of our students."

It takes 11,500 staff to serve AISD's 86,000 students, Carstarphen said. In terms of professional development, Carstarphen said the district has been proactive this year in response to heightened accountability standards and high-stakes testing by preparing throughout the summer. Its focus will be to help teachers bring the curriculum to life for students in not only core subjects, but also in career and technical education, she said.

The convocation takes place every August before the school year begins. For this year's virtual convocation, Austin High School staff gathered in the auditorium, and Carstarphen spoke while other staff around the district watched a video of her message. Vincent Torres, president of the AISD board of trustees, said he thought using the technology was an efficient use of staff time.

"[One] point that the superintendent made was that we've had to cut back on professional development because we've had reductions in budget," Torres said. "If you've got to do professional development, make the most of the time and limited resources that you have."

The superintendent's convocation video is posted on the Austin ISD website and will be aired on AISD-TV Channel 22 on Aug. 21 every hour on the hour until 4 p.m.