Austin ISD board of trustees District 5 runoff: Lynn Boswell, Jennifer Littlefield on COVID-19 response, equity, school closures and more

Voters within Austin ISD's District 5 will decide on a new member of the district's board of trustee's Dec. 15.
Voters within Austin ISD's District 5 will decide on a new member of the district's board of trustee's Dec. 15.

Voters within Austin ISD's District 5 will decide on a new member of the district's board of trustee's Dec. 15.



AUSTIN ISD


After no candidate received 50% of the vote Nov. 3 in the race to represent District 5 on the AISD Board of Trustees, the election advanced to a runoff between the top two vote-getters, Lynn Boswell and Jennifer Littlefield. District 5 stretches to parts of west, central and southwest Austin. You can find the district map here to find out whether you live within the boundaries.


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 Boswell and Littlefield here.

BOARD OF TRUSTEES DISTRICT 5










Lynn Boswell



Candidate bio: Boswell is the mom of a 2017 AISD graduate and a LASA senior. She has a law degree from UT and makes documentary films. She said her volunteer service in AISD began with the Casis PTA and includes several district-wide advisory bodies. She is also a past-president of the Austin Council of PTAs, and has served on Austin’s Juvenile Justice Workgroup, the Travis County Census 2020 Complete Count Committee and Just Fund It TX.




What are the biggest challenges facing District 5 right now, and how do those relate to what AISD faces as a whole?



LB: The impact of COVID is the most immediate challenge. Students everywhere are losing learning, facing mental health challenges, and missing important opportunities that school provides. That’s true in District 5, as well – especially for students with economic disadvantage (22% of D5 students), and special education needs (10.8%). Funding to retain strong teachers, support excellent academics, ensure extracurricular options and provide student support is another challenge – in District 5 and district-wide. AISD must increase funds through advocacy and by retaining students who are leaving AISD.



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?



LB: I applaud AISD for moving online last spring and acting quickly to provide meals and WiFi. However, AISD could and should have done more. I would have started with clear, frequent, empathetic communication, even about unknowns – from every campus and the district. AISD also should have mobilized a more ambitious civic response to this big civic problem, with science, creativity and collaboration. And I would have advocated strongly with the state – to protect funding, waive high-stakes testing and ensure local control over decision-making.



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?



LB: School closures were a mistake – made despite strong opposition, unmet promises and a failure to engage the community in truly collaborative ways. Future closures must be paused until we have data about the impact on affected students and on whether promised savings have been realized. We must also look at schools that remain on the potential closure list, supporting community-led efforts to find solutions created by the community, not imposed on the community.



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



LB: We must begin with an honest, comprehensive equity assessment. A shared understanding of facts provides a foundation for working together on identifying problems and creating solutions. People in District 5 want and need to be part of that conversation – one that I have engaged with for years as a leader of the Austin Council of PTAs. The equity office must support a shift in AISD’s culture – to see every student’s potential and work to ensure all have what they need to succeed.



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



LB: AISD must take an honest look at why families choose charters, then work with families to address unmet needs. Community schools with wraparound services and on-site childcare are essential. So is a focus on valuing principals who build relationships and ensure that students, teachers, and families are valued. We must also welcome all families into our schools, starting with programs that serve new parents like read-alouds in school libraries. All families must know they belong.









Jennifer Littlefield



Candidate bio: Littlefield is the parent of two children who attend District 5 schools, and she herself is a graduate of Austin High School. She said she has been an active volunteer at Patton Elementary School, Small Middle School, and Austin High. Littlefield served on the 2017 bond committee, and said she is committed to serving District 5 and AISD with a focus on strategic planning and community-led decision making. She is also an experienced attorney with a legislative and policy background.




What are the biggest challenges facing District 5 right now, and how do those relate to what AISD faces as a whole?



JL: My top priorities are reopening safely, improving strategic planning, and addressing equity issues that will be exacerbated by remote learning. I believe strong community engagement is the core building block of public trust. It is an essential element of success in tackling equity issues and other challenges. I will focus on strategic planning to ensure we are spending every dollar wisely. I will prioritize competitive salaries for teachers, as well as strengthening academic and extracurricular programming that attracts families to AISD. I will also advocate for improving AISD’s special education and dyslexia intervention services.



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?



JL: AISD has struggled to effectively communicate its reopening plans with parents, teachers, and principals. Providing clear and timely information about reopening is critical to ensuring that families continue to choose AISD schools. AISD’s reopening plans should protect teachers, students, and staff by using public health expertise to guide reopening decisions. Until all students are able to safely be back in the classroom together, AISD should prioritize in-person learning for students with highest academic need while providing all students the opportunity for meaningful interaction with peers and teachers.



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?



JL: People support solutions they help create. Moving forward, AISD must improve its track record of including parents, teachers, and community stakeholders in the district’s decision making process. Any future school closure decisions must use a transparent criteria and community led decision-making. Further, the district’s top priority now should be focusing on supporting teachers and students with safe reopening plans and continued improvements to remote learning.



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



JL: The equity office should be an integral part of district operations. The AISD Equity Officer should work with the Board and Superintendent to inform policy decisions. My experience as an Austin High graduate and now parent gives me the unique insight of what has improved in our schools over the last 25 years and what work remains to be done. Then and now, not all students in AISD benefit from the same educational opportunities. We must ensure that every student is set up for success in AISD.



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



JL: AISD faces competition from charters, private schools, and neighboring school districts. Our goal must be to provide strong academics, fine arts, athletics, and an inclusive and nurturing environment on every campus. We accomplish this by investing in competitive teacher salaries, continued bond investments to improve aging facilities, and programs that attract families to AISD, such as dual language, STEM programs, and Early College High School.