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Austin to close 12 schools

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  • Austin to close 12 schools


    BREAKING: Austin district to close 12 schools under multi-year plan

    Austin district leaders will shutter 12 elementary and middle schools under a multi-year plan, a historic move for a district that has undergone years of dwindling student enrollment.

    Brooke, Dawson, Joslin, Sims, Maplewood, Metz, Palm, Pease, Pecan Springs and Ridgetop elementaries, Webb Middle School and Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy will be closed and consolidated with other schools. The students at all but three of the schools are majority low-income.

    The closed campuses are among 40 draft scenarios in the “2019 School Changes” proposal, which also includes school boundary changes, grade realignments and teacher housing. It also calls for a significant investment of new programs in underserved communities, including placing many of the students whose campuses close into new school buildings. District leaders on Thursday said the proposed changes are to provide more academic opportunities for low-income, Latino and black students.

    “It’s time to focus on equity in our academic programs, which is why we’re doing these school changes,” said board President Geronimo Rodriguez. “The proposals the administration is making are not about winners and losers... Yes it includes consolidations, closures, but we as a community have to have the conversations about whether we believe we need good schools in every part of this community and we need to be sure we’re making investments where we have not in the past.”

    The school district for more than 25 years has been criticized for holding on to chronically low-enrolled schools. State officials, consultants and district committees all have called on the district to address inefficiencies, pointing to shuttering campuses. While some schools have been named on lists for potential closures multiple times, the district has put off the decision for years. After its sixth consecutive annual enrollment drop, the school board early this year indicated the decision could no longer be delayed. The approved a timeline that showed school closures beginning next year.

    In a move that could shake up the demographics of some of the district’s highest performing schools, official will revamp admission practices at all of its magnet schools — including the prized LASA High School and Kealing middle school programs — and admission-based campuses. The new criteria has not yet been developed, but the district leaders said the goal is enroll more low-income students who largely have been missing out on such programs. Both schools previously tweaked their admission processes, but have seen only small diversity gains.

    Girls at Sadler Means, which this year failed to meet state academic standards, will be given the option to attend the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, among the highest performing campuses in the district. Under current practices, girls admitted to Ann Richards qualify to attend through a competitive application process and are selected by lottery, with priority given to low-income students. It’s unclear how admission policies will change and what the transition will look like from the Sadler Means girls. However, admission practices at all the district’s magnets -- including to the prized LASA High School and Kealing magnet -- also will be revamped though new criteria has not yet been developed.

    “It’s going to be hard. We all realize it,” Superintendent Paul Cruz said. “Change is hard (but) status quo is not an option.”

    Vincent Tovar, a member of the East Austin education advocacy group PRIDE of the Eastside, who has fought against school closures in the past, said the process in coming up with the proposals departed sharply from the way other district leaders have approached closures in years past. Community members from various parts of the city were brought together in a series of meetings to allow them to provide input and help create the proposals.

    “The district can champion equity with these rollouts with affordable housing and should add the relocation of ALC (Alternative Learning Center, the district’s disciplinary campus) on the LASA campus to give the highest need students access to resources easily available to those considered high performing,” Tovar said. “Though the district is going to get blamed for closures, we need to recognize the state and the federal government have much more blame in not funding public schools and not giving them the autonomy, while supporting charters as competitors.”

    The plans also call for converting Northeast High School (formerly Reagan) and the all-boys middle school, Gus Garcia for Young Men’s Leadership Academy, into campuses for sixth through 12th graders, with new programs at each; a bilingual Montessori school at Winn Elementary, International Baccalaureate programs at Kocurek Elementary and Covington Middle schools; the addition of a Multicultural Studies curriculum at all middle and high schools; and the expansion of school hours from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. across the district to offer before and after school programs.

    District leaders also propose creating affordable housing for teachers and other school workers, though it is unclear where such housing would be located. The district annually loses 600 to 800 teachers, many of whom leave for neighboring school districts, where housing is cheaper and pay is often higher.

    “We were working off the assumption that we want every kid in a high performing academic culture and we want to improve the building conditions,” said Nicole Conley Johnson, district chief officer of business and operations. “We really feel a real sense of urgency to change and use this as an opportunity to set forward a plan that will serve our economically disadvantaged kids a whole lot better than they are being served today.”

    The district will launch a series of town halls to garner feedback on the proposals before the school board ultimately votes on more solidified plans in November, and trustees will discuss the plan at Monday night’s school board meeting. Some community members lauded portions of the plans, while others were riled by other aspects of it.

    Joslin parent Ryan Turner said members of his school community repeatedly reached out to the district’s operations officer and never heard back from the district. Joslin, which falls into the underenrolled campus category by fewer than five students and is slated for closure in 2024, has been put on closures lists before.

    “We’ve been told by Austin ISD that the small school option must be part of the portfolio of options. We’re still convinced Joslin is that option,” said Turner, who has joined others in a fight against previous proposals to close the campus. “The neighborhood has rallied and they will again. They will rally hard to save the school.”

    Jim Harrington, a civil rights activist and school volunteer said he’s disappointed by the plan’s reluctance to overhaul school boundaries, which he believes could better address inequities and segregation within schools.

    “They say they’re going to improve the quality of education but they always say that, but nothing happens,” Harrington said. “I’m pretty skeptical of their commitment. The whole thing about improving the programs is just to make it more palatable to close down schools.”