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East Austin Charter School Wants To Lease Eastside Memorial High

Southwest Key operates a charter school in East Austin and wants to lease the Eastside Memorial High building to expand its prep academy.
Photo by KUT News
Southwest Key operates a charter school in East Austin and wants to lease the Eastside Memorial High building to expand its prep academy.

Southwest Key, a national non-profit that operates a charter school in East Austin, is offering to lease Eastside Memorial High School and operate a prep academy in the building. Eastside Memorial currently houses a Global Tech High School and a Green Tech High School.  The Green Tech High was the only school in Austin ISD to be ranked "academically unacceptable" last year by the Texas Education Agency.

"That school has been low-performing for 11 or 12 consecutive years," communications consultant Paul Saldaña told KUT News. Saldaña's firm, Brisa Communications, is advocating on behalf of Southwest Key.

"Fundamentally, and really from a priority perspective, [the lease proposal] comes down to providing kids with a priority education," Saldaña said.  He said the Eastside Memorial campus, or even a portion of it, could house Southwest Key's East Austin Prep Academy, a charter school that serves 6th and 7th graders and will expand by one grade per year as students age. "If we could get into that campus, then we would also add ninth grade," Saldaña said.

The idea has the support of several East Austin community activists. Some of them sounded off last night during a public input session on the Austin school district's budget.

"What we are interested in is saving quality education in East Austin, which we have not had for over 25 years," Govalle/Johnston Terrace resident Daniel Llanes said to Superintendent Meria Carstarphen at the forum last night inside the cafeteria at Reagan High School.

The League of Latin American Citizens District 12 Director, Marcelo Tafoya, was also at the hearing and stood in line to address the Superintendent.

"Our children are the only thing we have that our future depends on. Without their education, without a future for them, we go nowhere. We'll end up exactly where we were 100 years ago," Tafoya said.

But one person at last night's meeting voiced strong opposition to the idea of leasing the school formerly known as Johnston High to a charter school operator.

"I hope that the board will come right out and say, 'No,' and stop this dialogue," Toni Rayner, a parent of two at Eastside Memorial High School, said. "It is distracting [students] constantly. They are just around the corner from us, and they're bringing this up on a daily basis, and perhaps if they had a clear, 'No', from AISD, maybe they would move on."

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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