Work ahead

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

ing she demon­strates a downto-earth, ac­ces­si­ble style and ap­pears most com­fort­able in schools and around stu­dents. Oth­ers have dis­agreed with her quick changes. Teach­ers said the biggest change they saw from Carstarphen was in the in­creased en­ergy and ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

An­gela Gatto Buck­ing­ham, an English in­struc­tion coach at Rea­gan, said she re­mem­bers how, af­ter some skep­ti­cism about the con­vo­ca­tion, she ended up be­ing in­spired by Carstarphen’s fo­cus on eq­uity for all stu­dents.

“I re­mem­ber when I was leav­ing, be­ing ex­cited about the school year,” she said. Months later, at an event hon­or­ing a col­league as the district’s teacher of the year, Buck­ing­ham said she was struck by how Carstarphen came over and sat with their group. “I re­al­ized how onthe-ground she wants to be, and I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate that.”

Candice Kaiser, a foren­sics and chem­istry teacher at Rea­gan, agreed that the lit­tle things meant a lot. She said the thing that im­pressed her most about Carstarphen is how she gave a stu­dent her cell phone num­ber af­ter meet­ing her at an east side schools plan­ning meet­ing.

“It just showed how far she’s will­ing to go for the suc­cess of the stu­dents,” Kaiser said.

Carstarphen said ac­ces­si­bil­ity is key.

She said she kicked off her year with a con­vo­ca­tion be­cause “peo­ple can’t be kept in the dark with the leader and the (style) of the leader.”

Last week, the district made au­to­mated calls to res­i­dents, ask­ing them to rate Carstarphen’s per­for­mance in the district, in­clud­ing her ef­fec­tive­ness in im­prov­ing low-per­form­ing schools.

“You’ve got to hear from the peo­ple you serve,” Carstarphen said. “It’s a big sys­tem. There’s a lot of noise be­tween me and what’s hap­pen­ing in the class­room ev­ery day.”

Trustee Robert Schneider praised Carstarphen’s in­volve­ment with the com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially her em­brace of technology, which he said she’s used not only to doc­u­ment what she has done but to in­ter­act with the com­mu­nity.

The things she’s say­ing are dif­fer­ent as well, Schneider said: “There’s an open­ness that was not there be­fore — to say that a part of town has, whether you agree or not, been his­tor­i­cally ne­glected. It’s hard to imag­ine a prior su­per­in­ten­dent mak­ing that state­ment.”

But Schneider said he also is concerned about the amount of in­for­ma­tion board mem­bers get and Carstarphen’s re­sponses to ques­tions.

“One of the things I’m still try­ing to feel my way through is how do you ask a ques­tion with­out it be­ing per­ceived as a crit­i­cism,” he said. And de­spite com­mu­nity feed­back and mak­ing her­self avail­able, some of her de­ci­sions have caused rifts with sec­tors of the com­mu­nity.

Re­forms shift­ing the district’s bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram to a dual-lan­guage model have re­sulted in a ten­u­ous re­la­tion­ship be­tween Carstarphen and some mem­bers of Austin’s His­panic com­mu­nity. Crit­ics have said that the pro­gram may not go far enough to help English-lan­guage learn­ers and that they fear district lead­ers don’t pri­or­i­tize non-English-speak­ing stu­dents’ in­ter­ests.

A re­cent de­ci­sion about whom to sup­port in ef­forts to repli­cate a New York-based anti-poverty pro­gram, called the Har­lem Chil­dren’s Zone, also caused fric­tion. Though district of­fi­cials said a group called the Austin Achieve­ment Zone, which fo­cused on North­east Austin, was bet­teror­ga­nized, of­fi­cials with South­west Key, a lo­cal char­ter school op­er­a­tor that also sought district sup­port, said they didn’t see why the district couldn’t en­dorse both pro­grams.

“I know there are ad­vo­cates out there who feel a cer­tain way about some things … but I feel like other mem­bers of the com­mu­nity lead­er­ship have given me the ben­e­fit of the doubt from day one,” Carstarphen said. “And I feel like we’ve re­cip­ro­cated that by hav­ing a ban­ner year for AISD.”

Tor­res said Carstarphen has done “a very good job” over­all, with early fo­cus on Pearce and other strug­gling schools in the East Austin com­mu­nity, but “that has been done at the ex­pense of other ar­eas. She rec­og­nizes that.”

Schneider agreed. “I guess there were the four pri­or­i­ties from the board … and the im­me­di­ate one was ad­dress­ing low-per­form­ing schools,” he said. “That’s a big job. At the same time, that doesn’t mean you just turn off ev­ery­thing else.”

Tor­res also said Carstarphen needs to fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing the district’s re­la­tion­ship with the Uni­ver­sity of Texas, the ar­eas of the district that don’t have strug­gling schools, pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment and fin­ish­ing staffing her se­nior­level cabi­net.

“She’s go­ing to have to fo­cus on per­son­nel is­sues,” Tor­res said, adding that the board had an­tic­i­pated that key mem­bers of Carstarphen’s cabi­net, which he deemed es­sen­tial in help­ing run the district, would have been in place more quickly.

Carstarphen, who named her chief op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer two weeks ago, said high-level po­si­tions can be filled quickly, but: “I hire slowly and de­lib­er­ately, be­cause there’s noth­ing like a bad hire in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion. I am sure about my de­ci­sions. I took all the time in the world to get the right peo­ple in the right po­si­tions at the right time, and it will serve AISD well. They were worth the wait.”

Carstarphen said she’s learned much in her first year and is ready for the sec­ond.

“The end was so much bet­ter than the be­gin­ning,” she said. “I could not be more proud of what we ac­com­plished.”

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