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Education

AISD Trustee Bradley Frosty Towards “Pre-K Village” Proposal

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Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News
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A plan by the Austin Independent School District to set up a pre-kindergarten program in a cluster of portable buildings at Webb Middle School – something the district calls a “Pre-K Village” – is receiving a cold shoulder from the Austin ISD board member whose district includes the campus.

“I just have difficulty with having four-year-olds in portables in inclement weather, the cafeteria being a portable, and the physical education space being a portable,” Trustee Cheryl Bradley said during last night’s school board meeting. “Even the design I’ve seen gives me heartburn.”

AISD is facing a district-wide problem of elementary school overcrowding. But this proposal focuses on the elementary schools in north central Austin – Barrington, Cook, Graham and Hart – that are overcrowded, even with portables. In some cases, lunch has to start at 10 a.m. and end at 1:30 p.m. just to give all the kids a chance to eat in the cafeteria.

But north central Austin Middle Schools – Burnet, Dobie and Webb – are under capacity. Webb, for example, has enough space for 902 students, but only 662 are enrolled: a functional operating capacity of 73 percent.

The district has already constructed additions to elementary schools and added portables. It has bought land for one elementary school and plans to start the process of building another one soon.

In the meantime, AISD staff believes they can temporarily relieve overcrowding by shifting some north central elementary students to middle schools. Part of that plan involves changing Webb Middle School to a campus that serves pre-kindergarten through the 8th grade.

“This is a tough one,” AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen acknowledged during last night’s board meeting. “The village concept isn’t ideal.”

Carstarphen said her staff were trying to develop design plans to make the space feel more comfortable and permanent, including covered walkways and sun shades. Austin ISD will also look to its chief academic officer Ramona Treviño for ideas, because she managed portables as founding principal of the UT Elementary School.

“We’re going to make it very cottage-like and village-oriented,” she said. “We’ll make it sweet. It won’t be gross. I promise.”

But Bradley’s concerns were not assuaged by Carstarphen’s pledge.

“It’s not so much how it looks, but we have these babies out in the portables,” she said. “To me, 4-year-olds should be in a building.”

Several parents with children in north central Austin elementary schools have also registered their distaste for change at Webb. You can read some of their comments in this survey conducted by AISD.