During its June 10 Leander ISD Board of Trustees meeting, the Board reviewed the work of the district’s Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee, results from staff and community surveys, and a construction update from multiple campuses.
Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee presents work, feedback from spring listening sessions
Our Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee identified several community priorities when it comes to creating and enhancing inclusive places of learning in Leander ISD, including greater transparency, cultural responsiveness and decisive action.
Assistant Superintendent of Pathways and Innovation Chrysta Carlin and Area Superintendent Dr. Laurelyn Arterbury outlined the committee’s work over the past nine months, including the district’s community listening sessions in the spring. Nearly 200 parents, teachers, staff and community members joined volunteer facilitators for hour-long, break-out sessions of 4-8 people to listen and learn about their experiences related to equity and diversity in Leander ISD. In addition, we collected more than 100 form responses addressing these questions (read the responses here):
- What do you think the district needs to know regarding equity and diversity in Leander ISD?
- What experiences have you had with equity and diversity (or lack thereof) in Leander ISD?
- What additional action steps do you feel the district needs to take regarding equity and diversity?
Feedback gleaned from the 10 listening sessions fell into five themes (more details here):
- Politicization and Polarization
- Cultural Responsiveness
- Inclusive Culture
- Clarity, Transparency and Communication
- The desire for Dialog and Action
“The academic, social and personal achievement of all our students is the driving force behind these critical conversations,” Board Vice President and committee member Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia, Ph.D. said. “How can we best appreciate our diversity, respect our differences, and move forward together in creating a welcoming educational environment in our growing community? That question is best answered by all of us coming together in support of our students.”
The committee’s three subcommittees worked throughout the school year to hone recommendations based on their respective subject areas:
Policy and Practice
- Administrator of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
- Create an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI)
- Requested this new position in presented 2021-22 budget
- AEA (Local) Equity Policy
- Discussion of a local policy related to educational equity
- Currently meeting with the Board policy sub committee
- Professional learning focusing on the assets that both students and staff bring to the Leander ISD learning community.
- System-wide professional learning facilitated at the campus and district department level to promote discussions and actions unique to each setting
- Strengthening our Learning Environments through Asset-based Thinking and DEI
- Leveraging Data to Launch 2022-23 DEI Processes & Practices
- Formalize processes to expand our DEI committee to include members of the community, parents, students, teachers, administrators and staff.
- Continuation of Listening Sessions in 2021-22
Trustees table Social Studies materials adoption for AP World History and AP Human Geography
Trustees will wait a week to vote on new social studies textbooks for AP World History and AP Human Geography as part of LISD’s regular Technology and Instructional Materials Allotment (TIMA). This will allow time for administration to provide the Board with more information about the teacher-led material review process and scoring criteria. At the Board’s request, LISD staff is also exploring whether we can extend the contract on our current textbooks.
The texts, Human Geography: A Spatial Perspective and Traditions and Encounters for AP 2020, have been available for public and Trustee viewing since April. You can view those materials by visiting this curriculum website.
Teachers in our AP Human Geography and AP World History courses have worked hand-in-hand with administrators throughout the research and selection process. Input and feedback have been gathered from staff, parents, community members through the Districtwide Educational Improvement Council (DWEIC) and the Community Curriculum Advisory Committee (CCAC).
LISD retains Austin LifeGuard to teach sex education
Trustees voted to move forward with the district’s School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) recommendation of continuing the use of LifeGuard to teach sex ed in LISD schools. Every three years, SHAC, a committee comprised of school personnel, community members and parents, is tasked with reviewing various human sexuality curricula considers:
- Grade-level appropriate content,
- delivery method,
- parent access,
- training, and
This year, we reviewed four curriculum options, with two (Choosing the Best, LifeGuard) brought to the committee for consideration in accordance with established committee guidelines. SHAC thoroughly examined Choosing the Best and LifeGuard, reviewed the curriculum, and met with each organizations’ representatives before making its recommendation.
Our administration and school leaders will continue consideration regarding the other recommendations from the SHAC on mental health and recess, as those items do not require the Board’s approval.
Federal pandemic relief funds likely to be directed towards reimbursement for COVID-related costs
We will continue to address multiple avenues of student support in using allocated funds totaling $15.8 million under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III (ESSER III) legislation passed by Congress earlier this year. The purpose of these funds is to help us respond to the pandemic and its impact on student learning.
In listening to our community and gathering its feedback about how to best utilize the ESSER III funds, we’ve identified several focus areas for the funding, some of which are in the form of reimbursements for costs incurred since March 2020:
- Summer school costs
- Edgenuity labs at high school
- Additional elementary counselors
- Student Success Facilitators
- SPIRE Phonics Reading Intervention Kits and Professional Learning
- Universal Screener
- Reading Academies
- Air quality improvements with Merv filters
- Hardware and software utilized as a response to COVID
- Learning management system
- Continued WIFI hotspots
We continue to seek community feedback on the use of these funds and will adjust as needed during our regular review of this program every six months.
LISD debt situation continues to improve as budget vote beckons next week
On June 17, the Board will vote on the 2021–22 budget, which accounts for at least 3% student enrollment growth, a 2% pay increase for staff and flexibility to adjust as the pandemic conditions improve and we welcome more students into our school buildings.
Alongside the year-over-year budget planning, Trustees reviewed an update on the district’s outstanding debt obligations, which have improved remarkably over the last five years thanks to the Board’s focus on reducing our reliance on capital appreciation bonds (CABs). By refinancing outstanding debt, carefully structuring new debt and taking advantage of early repayment options, the district has:
- Reduced overall CAB percentage from 75% to 36%
- Reduced total future principal & interest by $733 million while issuing $286 million in new bonds
- Has a current additional capacity of $1 billion
- Reduced repayment terms of all debt by 5 years
In January 2021, the administration brought forward a proposal for refunding several bond obligations on both a taxable and tax-exempt basis. In connection with that transaction, the district secured an updated rating from S&P which resulted in an affirmation of the district’s AA rating. The refunding was priced on May 25, 2021 and resulted in savings of over $70 million.
“It’s exciting to see improvement in the district’s financial health and reflects the commitment we made to being good stewards of taxpayer money,” Board Secretary Elexis Grimes said. “As we continue to grow and anticipate a potential bond offering to our community later this year, this improvement has a real, tangible impact on our ability to provide the very best educational spaces for our students.”
Summer construction work continues at several LISD campuses
As part of a general construction update, Chief Facilities Officer Jimmy Disler dissected the ongoing work around the district, including progress at:
- Tarvin Elementary School (New Construction) – Preparing for staff move-in
- Cedar Park Middle School (HVAC Update) – HVAC, lights, paint, carpet and security upgrades
- Steiner Ranch Elementary (HVAC Update) – HVAC, lights, paint, carpet and security upgrades
- Vista Ridge High School (Facility Additions) – JROTC Building Additions and Renovations, Incubator Renovations and Security Upgrade