An update from Austin Public Schools

Published 4:42 pm Friday, November 5, 2021

By Dr. Joey Page

Austin Public Schools Superintendent

This is about the time in the school year when it feels like you’ve finally found your groove and can take a moment to breathe deep and reflect on the first quarter. During this (very) brief lull, there are two things I’d like to talk about.

First, I’d like to recognize the very difficult but excellent work that’s been done restoring in-person relationships, routines, and practices. I see a lot of repairing of structures and connections happening every day in our schools, and it is admirable. True, we are not done with the pandemic yet, but things are better. We have students in the building five days a week, vaccines are becoming more available, and our case rates are going down (and hopefully will stay that way). It’s a relief to see this happening.

At the same time, it’s incredibly challenging work. Teachers and staff are dealing with learning and social development realities that wouldn’t typically be an issue. Both big and little kids are learning how to “school” again as they start doing lessons in the classroom instead of their living rooms.

We are facing a big “catch up” ahead of us, and sometimes it feels like we will never get to where we want to be. But if you feel discouraged, please remember that returning to more normal operations is a slow process — before too long, we’ll find ourselves in a place where the going is a lot easier. We can’t forget that we still need to support one another along the way, and continue to have empathy for our teachers, our students, our staff, and ourselves. As we look ahead to better days, let’s continue to be kind, supportive, and gracious to one another.

Looking ahead to better days is an excellent way to sum up the second issue on my mind. While COVID may still loom large for us, it’s not the most important issue in our schools. Students learning and thriving is always our priority, and one way to help ensure that is to make sure our vision for the future is clear.

Developing a strategic plan is a big part of ensuring that we work together toward the future we want for our students. As you may know, APS has already started the process of developing a new strategic plan, and I want to update you on this process and what’s coming up next.

Figuring out where we are now: The first step in developing our strategic plan is to determine what’s going on now, and to that end we’ve been working with TeamWorks International to help us build our roadmap for the future of APS. You may recently have taken part in a survey from the district. The results of this survey will be used to help us take stock of where the APS is in its current state. This survey is closing shortly, so if you haven’t had the chance to participate, please do so soon! Focus groups are another part of this first step, where we’ll work together to better understand what we want for our students, families, and staff daily at APS.   

What’s next? When we have a solid understanding of our current reality, we will start working on a “Descriptive Vision for the Desired Daily Experiences (DDE)” gathered from students, families, and staff. At this point, we’ll be working with TeamWorks to determine clear metrics for measuring progress. Many of our goals will happen over the course of years, and we want to make sure that we have a way of determining if we’re hitting the marks as we go. This part of the process will start in November and go through May or June of this school year.

Why go through the trouble? As you might imagine, this is a thorough and lengthy process that requires a lot of time and work from a lot of people. But the payoff for taking our time now means that we will have greater success pursuing our goals in the future. The process will move at a steady pace for many reasons.

First, change takes time. Our District continues to grow and evolve, and it takes time to ready our system to adapt to change.

Second, we need to have a clear vision of where we’re going. We’re making sure to get input from the community, our teachers and staff, and students. We know results are more impactful when everyone has a stake in what our future can be.

Third, meeting our goals means having a clear plan. When we have compiled all the information we can get, we’ll develop a strategic plan that will guide us toward our goals for APS.

You can be sure that I’m always happy to answer questions about this process and will be keeping you updated throughout the process.  On behalf of the Board, you have our deepest gratitude for your hard work, cheerful spirits, and dedication to our students and each other!