$1.1B would help revamp Eastside, LBJ
But critic calls district’s plans for campuses ‘blatant segregation.’
Austin school leaders plan to modernize the entire district and all 130 schools if voters approve a $1.1 billion November bond measure — with $106.3 million earmarked for lifting two high schools with histories of academic struggles and low enrollment.
Bond plans call for Eastside Memorial High School, currently located at the former Johnston High campus in East Austin, to be built at the site of the original L.C. Anderson High School, “right-sized” for its 800 students.
The new location for Eastside — which began its early college program this fall, offering students a chance to earn an associate degree in high school — will be across the street from an Austin Community College campus, offering students better access to classes.
The move would save Eastside, which was threatened with closure by the state four years ago, and cut short any conversations on shuttering it to consolidate with another secondary school in the future, said Trustee Jayme Mathias, who represents the neighborhoods around Eastside and has worked with residents and parents on its fate.
The new Eastside campus would be the first high school built east of Interstate 35 in decades.
“This is one way in which we can help to ameliorate this situation of historical underinvestment in the students and schools of East Austin,” Mathias said. “The
community of East Austin could come plan together to build the high school of our dreams, the high school our kids and grandkids deserve.”
But not everyone is embracing the change. Johnston High alumni, as well as other East Austin advocates, are protesting the move. They say it does nothing for the students who are currently in high school there and that district leaders made the decision hastily, with little community input.
They also say it will displace the largely low-income, ethnic minority students who attend Eastside to make way for the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, or LASA, which has struggled with student diversity, to get a stand-alone building. It’s currently housed at LBJ High School. Earlier plans called for LASA to get a $125 million newly constructed building, but administrators took the project off the list to bring bond costs down. Trustees later agreed LASA could be housed at a slightly renovated Johnston campus to allow the school to expand to 2,000 students.
“Closing East Austin schools and taking a mostly Anglo school, LASA, out of a mostly African-American school, LBJ, and displacing a mostly Latino school, Eastside Memorial High School, so LASA can have that campus and placing three high schools — Eastside Memorial, LBJ and Reagan — in one district, District 1, is blatant segregation,” said Peggy Vasquez of the Save East Austin Schools PAC, which opposes the potential closure of schools on the east side and advocates for Eastside to remain at its current location.
The plan for LBJ if LASA leaves
If the bond passes and nationally ranked LASA moves out of LBJ High, LBJ will have only 850 students left on a campus with room for more than 1,900. The district plans to use that space to build the first phase of a health professions school, one that would be available to transfer students, and begin the second phase of its new Career Launch program in the same field, along with other improvements that would total $25.6 million.
LBJ’s Career Launch program is a workforce training program, which started last month, focused on applied science in nursing and other health fields. It is one of two academies aimed at giving mostly first-generation college students and those from low-income families a chance to earn an associate degree while working toward their high school diplomas. The program prepares students to enter the job market with their twoyear degrees, though they could also pursue further education.
The school already has used grant funds to put in hospital beds to be used for training purposes. But the second phase would include its own entrance with a waiting room, as well as modernized classrooms and furnishings. A third phase, which would be included in a future bond, would launch a health clinic, run by a hospital or health organization, to serve the community and provide the students a live training ground.
The health professions school is expected to prepare students for Tier I universities and continuation into medical school.
“They’re going to complement each other,” said Craig Shapiro, Austin’s associate superintendent of high schools. “We’re putting together a medical-themed high school in one place and providing the equipment and bringing it to the kids. We’re trying to expose and to help students realize that these professions are open to them, and they can excel. This is a great way to provide them first access into the health professions.”
Eastside Memorial High, now at the former Johnston High campus in East Austin, might be rebuilt at the site of the original L.C. Anderson High.