Superintendent’s assessment elicits passionate testimonies about the working conditions in the district

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The AISD board of directors faced a series of grueling public testimony at its meeting last Thursday, with more than a dozen teachers calling to express intolerable levels of stress. Citing administrative micromanagement, understaffing, excessive hours and poor pay, the speakers illustrated a neighborhood reaching an all-time low in morale.

With Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde due to be evaluated, the speakers took the opportunity to offer their opinions on criteria such as staff retention and teacher and student satisfaction. After conducting the assessment behind closed doors, the board voted unanimously to extend Elizalde’s contract until 2024.

“I have never seen my colleagues so tired and frustrated,” said Traci Dunlap, who teaches at Maplewood Elementary School. “Almost every teacher I know is planning to leave. “

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges facing noticeably underfunded school district, with teachers and staff most affected. Teacher resignations left AISD 105 vacant positions, forcing the remaining professors to take on additional classes and responsibilities. The staff crisis extends to a shortage of replacements, leaving some teachers unable to take time off.

“We are told that we have to find our own replacements if we are to have a day off,” said Lena Powell, special education teacher at Martin Middle School.

Professors described an environment of bureaucratic micromanagement that left them overworked and exhausted, with unclear benefits to student education. The tenure grievances included a poorly designed and district-enforced curriculum, lengthy and unpaid training requirements, and excessive meetings.

“After a horrible year, we are penalized with more visits than we have ever had before,” said speaker Kelly Griffin..

Many of us have to go through a 60 hour reading academy on our own time, without compensation, ”Dunlap added.

“Unfunded mandates don’t help us. We need resources and support, ”said Ryan Thomas of Akins High School.

Elizalde began her response to the series of testimonies with the assurance that she would contact anyone who made the statements. “We will start working immediately on all identified sites… clearly, they don’t feel supported. “

The superintendent then clarified that some of the mandates on faculty are imposed by the state. Bill 4545, which requires 30 hours of accelerated instruction for students who did not take or pass the STAAR test last year.

Leslie Stephens, district human capital manager, provided an alternate perspective, noting that “in 2019, which was a normal school year before the pandemic, the district had 107 vacant teaching positions… so it looks like we’re somewhere not very coherent ”.

Still, the board acknowledged that the booming mood was one of teachers reaching their breaking point. Several speakers have announced their intention to leave the teaching profession, some after careers of more than a decade.

“I work for a school on a district plan due to low test scores. The sheer amount of micromanagement causes me to fill out enough data sheets and goals to keep me awake until midnight most nights, and I work most of my weekends, ”said Megan Barrett. “In 11 years, I have never felt this degree of burnout… this will have to be my last year of teaching.”

Administrator Noelita Lugo asked board members to recognize this crisis as part of a larger national trend: “We are seeing it in all industries… the pandemic has had an impact on the way people think about how they make a living. Health workers and teachers are particularly worn out and exhausted.

a open letter organized by the Education Austin union has amassed more than 700 signatures to date, in an effort to improve working conditions. As District Chief for the next two years, Superintendent Elizalde will face the challenge of responding to these grievances.

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