2017 trends to know in Austin public education

New classrooms at Austin ISD contain movable furniture and sometimes do not have a fourth wall.

New classrooms at Austin ISD contain movable furniture and sometimes do not have a fourth wall.

Austin ISD is joining school districts across Texas in adapting its curriculum and facilities to meet the needs of 21st-century students.

1. Prevalence of dual language grows in Austin ISD

As of the start of the 2017-18 school year, 64 out of 130 campuses across Austin ISD are now offering some type of dual-language program.

Dual-language education develops bilingualism, biculturalism and biliteracy through curriculum that emphasizes two languages, according to AISD. The district offers two types of dual-language programs—one-way dual language, for native Spanish speakers to learn English, and two-way dual language, for English and Spanish speakers to learn each other’s respective languages.

Among the Central Austin schools in the district with dual-language programs are Burnet, Fulmore, Lamar, Martin and Webb middle schools.

Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy also offers dual language instruction.

Claudia Santamaria, assistant director of AISD’s multilingual team, said the district’s program is modeled after other Texas ISDs, such as Houston and Dallas. And although the program is sweeping many of AISD’s schools, dual language is only implemented at campuses where there is a demographic need as well as principal, staff and parent support.

Santamaria said the district is also debating the possibility of piloting dual-language programs at two AISD high schools.

For more information visit www.austinisd.org.

2. Social and emotional learning increases academic achievement

Austin ISD is one of the first districts in the nation to commit to the development of the whole child by incorporating social and emotional learning, or SEL, at all 130 campuses in the district, Pete Price, director of social and emotional learning, said.

The strategy teaches children to solve problems by working together, asking the necessary questions, managing time and being optimistic about what they are learning, Price said.

Identifying the social and emotional context of a learning environment has a profound effect on academic achievement, he said. Students who feel socially and emotionally secure in the classroom are more likely to take academic risks and engage in more socialized learning which increases academic achievement.

3. AISD intends to prepare students for future careers with classrooms designed for collaboration

In classrooms across Austin, students are not sitting in neatly lined rows anymore.

New classrooms contain movable furniture and sometimes do not have a fourth wall, Austin ISD Associate Superintendent Craig Shapiro said.

“We’re trying to realign education so kids are well-prepared to not only know stuff but also be prepared for future jobs,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro said the traditional classroom model was created in the 1800s to complement factories—the main job students were trained for. That is why classrooms have rows of desks and bells to signal the start and end of class, he said.

“It’s time we aligned to 21st-century jobs, like Google, Apple and even hospitals,” he said.

AISD’s proposed 2017 bond plans for nine new schools to be built using the new classroom design and seven pre-existing schools to be modernized.

In addition to the revamping of classrooms, Austin ISD’s proposed $1.05 billion bond is aimed at upgrading technology and transportation districtwide, addressing overcrowding and critical needs, and reinvention programs for 21st-century learning, according to the district’s website.

Some schools in the district that already have the new classroom design include Crockett Early College High School, Reagan Early College High School, Anderson High School and Austin High School.

4. Virtual health care a part of aisd medical coverage

School districts across Texas are implementing the use of virtual-based communication to increase student access to health care professionals.

Three AISD high schools have implemented the use of virtual health care clinics, according to Kristi Henderson, Seton Healthcare Family’s director of student health. In case of illness, students at McCallum, Crockett and Eastside Memorial are connected via webcam to a Seton physician or nurse practitioner.

Following parent pushback over the lack of registered nurses present at AISD schools, on Sept. 13 the district announced it would hire 33 more registered nurses to serve across grade levels over the next few months. Once hired, the total number of registered nurses in AISD will increase to 74.

5. UT-Austin changes automatic admissions threshold from
7 to 6 percent

It just got a little harder to get into The University of Texas at Austin.

The top-ranked public university in the state announced Sept. 15 that students hoping to enroll as undergraduates in fall 2019 will need to be in the top 6 percent of their Texas high school’s graduating class if they hope to gain automatic admission. The current automatic cutoff is 7 percent.

The change is the result of the growing number of applicants UT receives each year, school officials said. State law requires UT to provide automatic admission to students near the top of their high school class but allows the university to cap its automatic admittees at three-fourths of each freshman class. The remaining quarter is admitted through a holistic process, which takes into account grades, standardized test scores, race and extracurricular activities.

UT-Austin has tried to keep its enrollment relatively flat in recent years, but the number of applications has grown from 38,000 in 2013 to 51,000 in 2017.

The school’s automatic admissions rules are imposed by the state in an effort to maintain diversity at Texas universities. The rules for UT are adjusted each year to allow it to avoid being overwhelmed with automatic admittees.

Reporting by The Texas Tribune

6. 3-point seat belts on new school buses mandatory for year 2018 and later

Starting this fall, Austin ISD will have to comply with a new Texas law regarding seat belts on new school buses along with other districts across the state.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed State Senate Bill 693 into law June 15, requiring any new school buses purchased by school districts to include seat belts for each passenger.

The law goes into effect Sept. 1. Six states, including Texas, require seat belts on school buses.

The law requires three-point seat belts, which include lap and shoulder straps, for each passenger. The requirement only applies to school buses purchased that are model year 2018 or later, so buses already in service will not have to be retrofitted with belts.

Also, districts will not have to order new buses with seat belts if the district is not able to allocate the funds in the budget and if the school board approves the decision.

By Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.


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