Three candidates are contending for the Austin school board’s District 2 seat, which represents parts of East and Southeast Austin.
The seat is one of four that will be filled by a newcomer, as none of the incumbents up for reelection is seeking another term.
Those elected will be faced with tackling the district’s shrinking enrollment and the widening achievement gaps and budget woes caused by the rippling effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Adolphus “Andy” Anderson, 55, an information technology manager, is making his third bid for the seat. He has served on many school district committees, including as co-chairman of the district advisory council, co-chairman of budget and finance, and co-chairman of the boundary advisory committee. He also has served on the district’s bond advisory committee, helped with te district strategic plan, been on the teacher compensation committee and the budget stabilization task force and served as tri-chairman of the community committee on neighborhoods and schools. He works with the Texas PTA, including serving as council president for Austin to bridge the gap between the community and the school district.
Anderson said the district has done a great job during the pandemic but must ensure leaders continue to provide the resources and support to both students and teachers to sustain quality education. He also is calling for teachers, administrators and staffers who interact with students to take diversity and inclusion training to reduce racial disparities in school-based disciplinary actions. Anderson said District 2 hasn’t had enough representation or been given enough resources in recent years.
“I wanted to throw my hat in one more time to be sure there’s consistency, that there’s someone familiar with a lot of things that are going on in District 2,” Anderson said. “I’ve been involved there for at least 20 years. I want District 2 to be as successful as any other district.”
Ofelia Maldonado Zapata, 60, has been a community activist for more than 30 years, including as one of the leaders in Austin Interfaith, a multi-issue organization of faith-based and other groups that provides social services and addresses public issues. She has long worked to improve the district’s schools, particularly those with large numbers of low-income students, including serving for two years as president of the Eastside Memorial High School PTA. In the 1990s, she helped secure $6 million for 16 low-income schools in District 2, as well as funding for after-school programs and a summer youth employment program. She advocated for the district to adopt the first site-based management policy, now known as campus advisory councils, that opened door for parents and community leaders to participate in their local school decision-making process. Recently she helped create an anti-poverty initiative in partnership with Maya Consulting, an education consulting firm.
Maldonado Zapata said her priorities include increasing district transparency and accessibility, and creating more equitable education and increasing resources for students with special needs. She said the district must monitor, evaluate and measure academic success for students at low-income schools and students with dyslexia and disabilities, and work to secure resources for students with special needs and ensure students have access to health care on and off campus.
“I have spent my life focusing on social justice issues. Many of the problems that face AISD right now are social justice issues,” she said. “We need to honestly confront the systemic racism in our schools. We need to reckon with the impacts of gentrification in our city. And we need to be educating our students with a holistic approach that meets their needs inside and outside the classroom.”
John Mckiernan-Gonzalez, 53, is a historian and professor at Texas State University who has spent the past 25 years teaching. He has worked with various immigrant rights organizations, including the Workers Defense Project. Mckiernan-Gonzalez mobilized with other parents when the district created the 2019 School Changes plan, which proposed closing a dozen schools, including his child’s school. From a family of educators, Mckiernan-Gonzalez has helped create university-community collaborations in the university towns where he’s worked since 2002, spent summers grading Advanced Placement exams and provided expert feedback on Mexican American history textbooks for the Texas Freedom Network, a liberal group that closely monitors the state education board’s more controversial decisions. He’s also done research and publications on the history of epidemics and public health in Texas.
Mckiernan-Gonzalez’s priorities include addressing inequality in academics and racially and economically segregated schools and reversing the district’s “disinvestment in East Austin communities.” He said while the city is growing with more children, the district is failing to recruit and retain families. Rather than build larger schools, the district should keep its smaller learning campuses, which allow for more interactions between children and their educators, offer more of a community feel and generally have a better learning environment and outcomes, he said. He said he wants the district, which owns swaths of land across the city, to help make Austin livable.
“I am running to invest and defend public schools, particularly those east of Lamar, and I am happy to work with others in this effort,” he said. “I would spend more time listening, trying to give people a forum. I will listen, democratize and be a Spanish language advocate. “