Donning a pair of dark sunglasses, Austin ISD board trustee Jayme Mathias gathered with Eastside Memorial High School supporters on the campus at a rally and news conference May 7.
"The future of Eastside Memorial High School is so bright, we've gotta wear shades," Mathias told attendees, explaining that that is the message he wants community members to take away from the result of community input and collaboration with the district to find a partnering entity to lead improvement at the school.
On May 6 the AISD board unanimously voted to approve Johns Hopkins University's Talent Development Secondary as the partner entity to lead improvement at the school. Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams has told the school district that it must find a suitable partner entity for EMHS before the end of the school year or risk school closure. The board's action directed the superintendent to begin contract negotiations with Johns Hopkins.
Chris Caesar, a representative of Talent Development Secondary, told attendees he was encouraged by the support of parents and the community, and if given the chance, Johns Hopkins will work to increase student success.
"We do know that this process is not over," he said. "The commissioner and his staff...have some final decisions to make and we understand the questions and concerns that still remain about our work we look forward to the opportunity to address those. We do not take the trust of the school board lightly, or this community."
Education Austin President Ken Zarifis said the community strongly supports Johns Hopkins as a partnering entity. Having taught for 12 years at a high-needs school, Zarifis said he understands the challenges ahead.
"I know that in education, there's no such thing as a miracle," he said. "What I do believe in is hard work, and what I know is this community is ready to roll up its sleeves ... and be realistic, that this is not a time for miracles, but this is a time for hard work."
Members of the community attended, holding signs. EMHS alumnus Vincent Tovar, a leader of the organization Pride of the Eastside, called the organizations at the rally and all EMHS supporters "modern-day superheroes."
"I am looking forward to moving forward together, honoring the countless hours, the innumerable hours that parents who face eviction and [who] face domestic abuse, who still go to Campus Advisory Committee meetings, who still serve nachos after school who still make those copies, who still do whatever it takes to be PTA treasurer, to be on the booster clubs, to honor all of our efforts as a school community and move forward," he said.
Supporters of the school including board trustees, the board president and Superintendent Meria Carstarphen were in attendance, along with former Austin mayor Gustavo Garcia, a former AISD board president.
"This is not the first time that the school district has required that the community come together to make sure that our students are given the best education," Garcia said. "My message to the administrators, to the community, to all of us, is let's respect that 9–0 vote...it shows that the community has come together."
Though the school is at risk of closure if the Texas Education Agency does not approve a contract with Johns Hopkins, the atmosphere at the rally was not one of fear of that consequence, Zarifis said. He said the next step for the community will be to maintain its presence at school board meetings and keep in touch with board members and trustees.
"We're here for the success of Eastside Memorial," he said. "Closure is not success."