From Pease to boundaries, Austin ISD trustees discuss School Changes Version 2

Pease Elementary School
Pease Elementary School in downtown Austin is being considered for closure in part because it would be difficult to modernize the historic site in the future. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)

Pease Elementary School in downtown Austin is being considered for closure in part because it would be difficult to modernize the historic site in the future. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)

With School Changes Version 2’s release Nov. 1, Austin ISD trustees discussed and asked district staff questions about the updated scenarios for the first time at a meeting Nov. 4.

Version 2 outlines 12 School Changes scenarios that focus on what the district can do in the 2020-21 school year, Superintendent Paul Cruz said. Trustees are scheduled to vote on those 12 scenarios Nov. 18. Version 2 also lists an additional 30 scenarios that need further development or are no longer being considered by the district.

“Out of all the scenarios we are looking at, [these 12 are] the ones we have the resources to support next school year,” he said.

Pease Elementary School would be a difficult site to modernize

District 3 Trustee Ann Teich said all of the trustees have been approached by Pease Elementary School parents since the school was first included as a potential closure. Teich asked the district why the school is being included in the first round of closures.

Operations Officer Matias Segura said according to the district’s facilities master plan, Pease would be scheduled to be modernized through the district’s next bond. Modernizing the site would include increasing capacity through a second building, improving fire access and sidewalks, and adding parking spaces, according to city of Austin requirements, he said. However, improvements would be difficult due to the property’s small size, impervious cover restrictions, heritage trees, setback requirements and the building’s status as historic.

"We wouldn't be able to accommodate all of these things on-site if we were going to modernize it,” he said. "When we looked at different facilities across the district, Pease was identified as a school that could go through [the closure process] and that we would see multiple opportunities [for future use by the district] long term."

If closed, future uses for the building could include creating a social justice center, using the space to train teachers and staff, and using it as district archive, according to Version 2.

Consolidating Metz, Sims and Brooke could create 'robust school communities'

Version 2 outlines consolidations that would move students from Metz, Sims and Brooke elementary schools in East Austin to Sanchez, Norman, and Linder and Govalle elementary schools, respectively.

In two of those scenarios, the student populations of Metz-Sanchez and Norman-Sims have already been combined as modernization efforts are underway at Sanchez and Norman. At least in the case of Metz-Sanchez, District 2 trustee Jayme Mathias said students are getting along “like peanut butter and jelly.”

“This [anger about closing buildings] is less a kid problem as it is an adult problem,” he said. “You put the kids together and they come together. It would be a shame to take them apart now.”

Brooke students moving to Govalle would attend a modernized school, while students who move to Linder Elementary would begin going to a neighborhood school with programing focuses that aligned with Brooke’s.

"I'm excited to see how we are taking three school communities [in Govalle, Linder and Brooke] with roughly 1,010 students and bringing them into two robust school communities," Mathias said

He did have concerns about “the future of Zavala” Elementary School, which is not being modernized and will have a smaller enrollment compared to consolidated neighboring schools. Mathias also asked how the district can continue to honor the legacies of closing schools and remember the history they hold.

“That we will work on,” Cruz said. “Legacy, what the school represents, the history of the school ... we certainly want to respect that and develop a process.”

The district can learn from the Southwest Austin boundary process

In Southwest Austin, the community has been working with the district for over a year about new boundaries for Baranoff, Kocurek, Kiker, Boone and Cowan elementary schools that could go into effect once a new Southwest Elementary School opens in August.

District 7 trustee Yasmin Wagner said she hopes there are “lessons learned” from the Southwest Austin process, which has “been a hard one to watch at times” and “has really beaten up on our community ... our boundary advisory committee and our staff."

She said there is not a perfect situation available for the new Kiker and Baranoff boundaries that would address all neighborhood, transportation and enrollment concerns. Cruz recommended maps that were not consistent with those preferred by the committee or some residents. However, looking at the changes taking place related to enrollment across the entire district put the recommendations in context.

"If we're going to make a decision for one part of town, we have to hold true to that decision, that policy, applied everywhere [in the district] to be fair," she said.

Wagner also said the work to rezone Boone and Cowan was an example of a process that “worked as it really should” in regard to receiving public feedback and creating solutions. Wagner also praised the Kocurek and Boone communities for consistently being welcoming, warm and open to other communities.

"Throughout all of this, what I have seen from the receiving schools is nothing but class and grace and welcoming from those campuses,” she said.

Board President Geronimo Rodriguez said boundary changes could be considered in the future for the entire district.

Programs no longer under consideration are not schools forgotten

Version 2 included eight previous scenarios that are no longer under consideration.

For some campus specific scenarios no longer being considered—like the proposed grades 6-12 International Baccalaureate program at Covington Middle School—there is not an alternative scenario to help the school currently in the School Changes document.

Segura said listing a scenario as not being considered it is an acknowledgement by the district that “we didn’t get it right in Version 1” and to show that it is not being considered going forward. However, he said the district hopes to capture the long-term needs of the school through other scenarios and future updates.

“We certainly acknowledge there is a solution there with Covington,” he said. “It's going to manifest itself in a variety of ways, but we also acknowledge that what we first proposed is not part of the solution. The need [for a program] is still there."

What comes after the November vote?

Celso Baez, assistant director of community engagement, said that after the Nov. 18 vote, the district will plan next steps for the remaining scenarios still being explored and developed.

“It is our absolute intention to continue engaging the community [about the other scenarios under consideration],” he said.

He said the district should have more details about engagement and planning at the beginning of the calendar year, with the intention of a next vote in the spring.
By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


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