Dr. Pauline Dow, Austin Independent School District (AISD) Chief Academic Officer, told the group that currently no academic magnet high school programs exist in South Austin.
by Ann Fowler
AISD officials say any new south Austin high school should be a specialized magnet school, but many area residents say the priority should be a southwest Austin high school to relieve overcrowded conditions at Bowie High School.
Nearly 100 people showed up at Bowie High School on November 29 to voice opinions on a new high school in south Austin. Dr. Pauline Dow, Austin Independent School District (AISD) Chief Academic Officer, told the group that currently no academic magnet high school programs exist in South Austin.
A goal of the district’s strategic plan is to provide advanced academic courses at every school, providing more opportunities for students to participate in programs such as technology, athletics and languages.
One attendee said, “Scratch the whole fancy school thing. Let’s just get another high school in South Austin.”
AISD Administrative Supervisor Rhonda Boyer explained the choices attendees at a new South Austin high school would have:
• Scenario 1: International Baccalaureate Diploma Program
• Scenario 2: International Baccalaureate Career-Related Certificate
• Scenario 3: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) with Project Lead the Way
• Scenario 4: Early College High School
• Scenario 5: Career and Technology Education
• Scenario 6: Combination and/or Other Scenario(s)
Attendees at the meeting were randomly divided into groups to visit with scenario facilitators. Each scenario was explained, and attendees could ask questions or post suggestions. One theme heard often was having a traditional comprehensive school in addition to a STEM academy.
Vikki Goodwin of Shady Hollow said, “I didn’t realize that all the high schools around Austin are comprehensive with add-ons. So it is possible to have a comprehensive with a stem or even a couple of things. I wish they would tell us that to start with.”
The goal of the meetings is to determine what south Austinites want in a new school. Voters approved $32 million in a 2008 bond election to purchase land for a new high school in south Austin. The scenario selected by stakeholders will determine how much land is needed. A comprehensive high school needs acreage for athletics.
Daniel Benjamin, who lives near Brodie Lane, asked about the timeline.
A facilitator replied, “We haven’t been told that. It’ll probably take another bond election for construction.”
AISD Trustee Robert Schneider, a resident of Oak Hill, said specialty schools are nice, but something needs to be done to relieve overcrowding at high schools like Bowie. He pointed to a study of the growth of schools feeding into district high schools. The district average is a growth of six percent. Akins’ average was eight percent. The average for Bowie was 45 percent.
Schneider pointed out that if the school is built in the southeast area, it would not help Bowie. But a school built in the southwest can help relieve crowding at both Bowie and Akins.
He added that if it’s a specialized campus it won’t need a track or room for a marching band. A smaller tract of land would suffice. But, he added, “Folks are saying they want a regular campus.”
Michelle Reinhart of Circle C has an eighth grader and a fifth grader who are on track to attend Bowie. She said she has looked at magnet schools for her children, but the bus ride would take at least an hour. “To have other options south of the river would be great,” she said.
Oak Hill resident Edward Taylor said he is looking ahead for his elementary-school-aged children. He said, “If I’m not mistaken, some of the other campuses in South Austin—like Travis and Crockett—are underutilized right now. Why can’t we put some of these programs in the schools where we already have buildings and just not instructors? And build a comprehensive school and maybe stick a STEM program in it. That way we get more bang for the buck if that makes sense. That’s what I would like to see happen.”
Ana Irizarry has a child attending the Liberal Arts and Science Academy. Still, she wants to make sure the district takes care of its students. She told the Gazette, “I work in different efforts with the district. I really care about every kid getting the opportunities that are best for them. So I’m interested in seeing what’s going on. I think everyone needs to make sure things are balanced and kids have the opportunities to get what they need.”
The AISD Board of Trustees may consider the next steps at the December 17 regular board meeting. Anyone wishing to add comments can do so online at http://www.austinisd.org/fmp/comments.
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