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Investing in Reinvention Helps Austin Students Succeed
By Guest Blogger / April 18, 2016 /   Loading Disqus...

By Guest Blogger Dr. Paul Cruz, Superintendent of AISD

Jason Cartwright is a seasoned teacher at Austin ISD, but just three days into this semester, he experienced what would become a pivotal moment in his career.

After asking his class to get in groups for a science activity, one of Mr. Cartwright’s students refused. The student wouldn’t move from his seat or engage with his classmates.

Mr. Cartwright asked the student to have a discussion in the hallway, at which point, the student completely erupted, yelling and banging on lockers. 

The old way of resolving this interaction might have been taking the student out of the classroom and sending him home.

But Mr. Cartwright used a different approach. He invited the student to participate in a Harm Repair Circle, a resolution tactic used in Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL. 

During a Harm Repair Circle, an SEL coach facilitates a discussion where participants can share stories of struggles they are facing. Engaging in the dialogue together creates a dynamic of mutual understanding and empathy. 

As Mr. Cartwright and the student began working through the process, the student shared the news that his father had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Coping with this shock at home had made it extremely difficult for him to perform at school or interact with his peers. 

As they worked through the feelings surrounding the diagnosis, a new rapport was built. Having a trusted adult to share this news with helped the student begin to process his feelings, and he thanked Mr. Cartwright for creating a safe space to talk and for taking the time to support him.

Mr. Cartwright says he will always remember this student and the success of the approach.

“Implementing SEL takes time and money and training, and it’s worth it. SEL allows teachers to relate to students on a deeper level, which means we can focus on the end goal: helping them succeed,” said Mr. Cartwright.

Austin ISD’s vision is to reinvent urban education, and SEL has become a key strategy. 

Austin ISD is leading the country in putting social and emotional learning on par with academics. Over the last four years, SEL has expanded to reach all 130 campuses and the 84,000 students we serve. We are one of the first districts in the nation to implement social and emotional learning districtwide, and the results are excellent.

While SEL is helping teachers like Mr. Cartwright support students individually, it also has a strong impact on academic performance.

Meta-analysis shows that teaching SEL skills leads to a 9 percent decrease in problem behaviors and an 11 percent increase on math and reading standardized test scores.

SEL as it exists today would not be possible without grants and community donations made to Austin Ed Fund through Austin Community Foundation, which generates resources for Austin ISD and its SEL initiative.

Through initiatives such as the Innovation Grants program, Austin Ed Fund fuels new and creative approaches to teaching, with nearly $50,000 in grants awarded to teachers and school leaders last year.

Donations to Austin Ed Fund ensure that AISD continues to be a district of excellence and a leader in classroom innovation. 

By supporting Austin Ed Fund, you are not only helping Austin ISD reinvent urban education, you are reinventing the future of Austin. 

To learn more about Austin Ed Fund’s support of excellence and innovation, visit

Note: To protect the identity of the student, this teachers’ name has been changed. 

Dr. Paul Cruz is the superintendent of the Austin Independent School District, serving 84,000 students and 12,000 employees. Dr. Cruz guides the district in realizing the vision to reinvent the urban school experience. Under Dr. Cruz’s leadership, AISD graduation rates are an all-time high, students are performing well on the state’s accountability system and AISD is ranked among the best in the country on the Nation’s Report Card.


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