Standing on an exhibit hall stage Monday in the Austin Convention Center, newsman Dan Rather and his grandson, Martin Rather, opened SXSWedu 2017 on Monday by awarding the $10,000 Rather Prize to a Dallas-area teacher deemed to have presented the best idea to improve public education in Texas.

The prize, inspired by his grandson's desire to improve society by strengthening schools, holds special meaning, Dan Rather said. For the longtime former anchor of CBS Evening News, who continues working today as a journalist for AXS TV, attributed his success in media to his formative years as a student.

“What you are looking at is a reporter who got lucky, and part of why is because I am a product of Texas public schools,” he said.

This year, the Rather Prize was awarded Katie Landaverde, a teacher at Lake Dallas Elementary School. Landaverde's accolade was for her idea to design workshops where elementary school students would be taught topics of their choice by their older high school peers. The program would give younger students the opportunity to explore their interests while simultaneously allowing older students to develop expertise.

First held in 2011, SXSWedu brings together teachers, students, administrators and education experts to discuss the explore of teaching and learning. SXSWedu officials expect up to 8,000 people to participate in the conference this year.


Opening keynote speaker Christopher Emdin provided a high-energy start Monday when he told a packed audience in the convention center’s fourth-floor ballroom that marginalized students in urban communities are poorly served by the American education system.

Emdin, an associate professor of math, science and technology at Teachers College Columbia University in New York City, titled his speech, “We Got It from Here … Thank You 4 Your Service,” and challenged the audience to end complicity in a system that he said harms African-American students and other marginalized youth by “extracting their culture” and denying their identities, vernaculars and personal approaches to learning.

“That should rattle you. That should shake you. And if it doesn’t, I’m worried about you,” he said.

Additional keynote speakers this week at SXSWedu, which continues until Thursday, include Sarah Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University; Tim Ferriss-author, entrepreneur and investor; and Brené Brown, founder and CEO of Brave Leaders Inc.

Other highlights on Monday included presentations from representatives for Hutto ISD's two-way dual language program implemented that allows native English speakers and native Spanish speakers the opportunity to learn to read, write and speak in both languages and Austin ISD's Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders as well as a speech by Bill McRaven, chancellor of The University of Texas System.

SXSEedu Expo opens to public

SXSWedu opens its conference expo to the public from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday. Entrance is free for the event, which is held in Exhibit Halls 3 and 4 at the Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez St., Austin.

Panel sessions and other highlights include:

  • Organizing for Change: Creating a No Place for HateTexas high school students from a low-income, Title I campus share their experiences from yearlong internships with teachers as well as their advocacy for banning discretionary suspensions for pre-kindergarten to second-grade students.

  • How to “Grow Your Own” TeacherEducators discuss steps to reinvent the urban school experience and deal with the education system’s teacher shortage.

  • Secrets Revealed! How to Break the Fake News CycleLocal student journalists and media professionals talk about how children followed news during the 2016 election and how learning to make news videos can help them better navigate the media landscape.

  • Performances by the Hutto High School varsity mixed choir; the music production class at Austin ISD’s Kealing Middle School; ballet folklorico by students at Del Valle High School and Harmony School of Excellence; and Austin-based musician Jabu Mbara.

What's next?

Here is a selection of SXSWedu panels set for Tuesday:

  • Beyond Aid: Solutions for Educating Refugee Youth, with experts from the International Rescue Committee, Aspen Institute, Microsoft and NetHope discussing how technology and other solutions can help provide education for refugee youth.

  • Do School Boards Work?: Improving Student Outcomes, which includes Kendall Pace, president of the AISD board of trustees, as a panelist.

  • The State of Schools: Students Combating Inequity, which features an all-student panel talking about how children in American schools are combating inequity in the U.S. education system in order to achieve educational goals.

  • The Fall of Newspapers: What Higher-Ed Can Learn, with journalists and media entrepreneurs discussion lessons higher education can take from the digital transformation of media.

Additional reporting by Olivia Lueckemeyer