UPDATE: Find out more details about the coming “Advanced and Creative Learning School” from our coverage of a Tuesday morning announcement here.
The community surrounding Austin Academy has waited a long time to learn the fate of their beloved neighborhood school. For years neighbors have fought against school closure as low enrollment led the inner city school district to consider a new future for the historic campus.
At a parent meeting on March 7, San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez revealed that new future.
Austin Academy will be one of two sites to for the district’s first advanced learning academy. Pre-kindergarden through fourth grade will be at Austin, while grades 5-12 will move into Fox Tech High School. In the first year, the advanced academy will serve grades K-10, expanding upward and downward in following years.
“I always want to give families the best options possible,” Martinez said.
Parents at Austin will have the option to send their students to Hawthorne Academy. They also have first priority at the advanced learning academy. Martinez encouraged interested parents to meet individually with himself and Lisa Riggs, senior executive director of curriculum and instruction.
One parent asked if there was a model school that parents could look up to see if it was a good fit for their kids. Martinez answered that because the new school will be a blend of gifted students and hard working students who come in performing at grade level, there isn’t really a model yet. It’s something entirely new.
Another unique element will be a partnership with Trinity University to create a pipeline of teachers trained to create advanced learning environments in other SAISD schools.
Current Austin teachers are guaranteed a place within the district, and may also apply for positions at the advanced academy. Applications will open after spring break, Martinez said.
Parents voiced appreciation for the new program, but their tone was bittersweet. Shannan Hern and Todd Morey, who have been outspoken advocates for Austin feel that they are still losing their community school.
“The program sounds wonderful,” Hern said, but also expressed her sadness that the advanced academy will come at the expense of their neighborhood school.
Austin will no longer have all the qualities that she loved, even if the program that moves in is a good one. She and Morey also feel like the decision to close Austin was made as far back as 2008, without taking into account the schools academic performance or potential for growth. Austin Academy, an in-district charter school emphasizing fine arts, served grades K-8.
“Even if the outcome is impressive, the process to get there is important,” Morey said.
Many parents, like Angelica Salazar expressed fears that their students would not have the opportunities that they had because of the tight community and support of Austin, with its fine arts programs. Her daughter, now at Brackenridge, experienced great success as part of the mariachi program at Austin.
Martinez assured parents that fine arts would continue to be offered to students at the advanced learning academy, though they were not yet sure what that programing will look like.
Like other parents, Salazar will now have to drive to several campuses every day to pick up and drop off her kids. Having two of the three at Austin was a huge help to the single, working mom.
Martinez and Riggs both assured parents that the advanced learning academy would not be an exclusive school for those students already advanced, but a place for students who are on grade level, but wanting to further excel through innovative teaching and hard work.
“We are developing a little bit of ‘GT,’ and by that I mean good teaching, and it’s good teaching for everyone,” said Riggs.
According to district officials, more details about the advanced academy will be announced on Tuesday, March 8.
Top image: Austin Academy located on 621 West Euclid Avenue. Photo by Scott Ball.