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.


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.


MOST RECENT

Samsung's proposed $17 billion chip-making plant would dwarf other recent megaprojects that sought tax incentives in the region.
Samsung’s request to pay no property tax on $17 billion plant tests Austin’s incentive policy

Samsung is asking for 100% property tax reimbursement over 25 years, which would mark the most aggressive corporate tax break in Austin history.

A new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine could help expand vaccination availability in Travis County, according to local health officials. (Courtesy Pexels)
Johnson & Johnson vaccine could mean additional supply, easier distribution rollout in Travis County

If approved, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be a valuable weapon against the ongoing pandemic, according to local health officials.

Austin ISD students will begin the 2021-22 school year Tuesday, Aug. 17. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Take a look at Austin ISD’s newly approved calendar for the 2021-22 school year

Austin ISD trustees have approved the academic calendar for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.

Snow covers I-45 in Houston during a winter storm that hit Texas the night of Feb. 14. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legislators probe energy officials over power failures, lack of preparation heading into winter storm

The Texas Legislature held hearings Feb. 25 with energy companies including Oncor Electric Delivery and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in response to last week’s historic winter storm, which left millions of Texans without electricity for days.

Austin ISD students are scheduled to return to classrooms March 1 for the first time since Winter Storm Uri. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Winter storm damage could prevent 10 Austin ISD campuses from reopening next week

Austin ISD students are scheduled to return to classrooms March 1 for the first time since Winter Storm Uri.

A tree's branches fell on a car in North Austin in the midst of Winter Storm Uri in February. With downed tree limbs and burst water lines causing property damage across Austin, the city has directed additional funds into programs to help some homeowners with emergency home repairs. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Still in crisis mode, Austin City Council initiates recovery following winter storm

With 200 to 400 apartment and condo complexes in Austin still without water, City Council is aiming to direct aid and relieve some of the financial burden felt by residents following the devastating winter storms.

ArborView is a 62-plus active-living community. (Courtesy ArborView)
Southwest Austin active-living apartment community set to open March 1

The 62-plus active-living community will have 151 total apartment units for rent.

Jo's Coffee opened a North Austin location in January. (Courtesy Chad Wadsworth)
Jo's Coffee opens in Central Austin; new restaurant coming to Georgetown Square and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic. (Courtesy Qygen, Wikimedia Commons)
Fry's Electronics calls it quits after nearly 36 years in business

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic.

A lone runner jogs on a snow-covered road in Austin. Transportation projects across the city were briefly paused due to Winter Storm Uri. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
ERCOT: Texas power system was less than 5 minutes from collapse during winter storm

ERCOT's CEO offered details into what led to the massive blackouts that left millions of Texans in the cold last week.

Photo of a snowy residential street
'Bad data is worse than no data': Austin health officials unsure how storm affected coronavirus spread

Weekly testing and hospitalization averages will not be updated by Austin Public Health until Feb. 27.