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As School Begins, Two High Schools Mark Early College Program Expansions

Reagan High School hosts a forum on the AISD budget tonight.
Photo by KUT News
Reagan High School is one of two early college programs in Austin ISD.

While the school year is just beginning, for Reagan High School and LBJ High School the end of the year will mark the first graduating classes in their Early College programs.

The programs offer free tuition and books to students looking for a leg up in college, or to earn an associate’s degree while still in high school. For Reagan, the program has revitalized the East Austin school given 90 percent of economically disadvantaged students a chance to pursue higher education.

It’s the first day of school and Reagan High School English teacher Damon Caraway explaining class expectations to some juniors. All of the sudden, interim Superintendent Paul Cruz walks in.

Three years ago, Reagan started the Early College High School Program along with LBJ High School. High school students, mostly juniors and seniors, take the bus to Austin Community College to take college courses.Reagan Principal Anabels degree too.

“For our first round that’s pretty good because those are a lot of hours,” Garza says. “Last year, we earned over 800 hours in college credit."

For them, the next step is to hopefully attend a four-year college – a goal that's been out of reach for the nearly 90 percent of students at Reagan who are considered economically disadvantaged. Garza says the early college high school program is appealing to a lot of parents and students—students can start college early.

While the program’s free, it’s also helping Reagan retain and even bring back students from McCallum and LBJ.

Between 2008 and 2011, Reagan failed state standards three years in a row and lost about 130 students, mostly to transfers.

“With a lot of good intent, but students just not engaged and just a culture of the school just wasn’t right at that time,” Cruz says. “Kids were working hard, teachers but it had gone through so much turnover in leadership and staff.”

Once the Early College program started, the school saw enrollment return to normal in one year. This year, both Garza and Cruz expect enrollment to increase. That’s rare at many schools on Austin’s east side.

Often, those schools struggle to enroll enough students to meet capacity.Garza recognizes the success at Reagan, but knows she has a lot of work ahead of her.

“It’s a short period of time to put all of knowledge in these kids especially during senior year, you get ‘senioritis,’” she says. “So we’re hoping our kids over past 3 years have been prepared.”

Interim Superintendent Cruz says while challenges still exist, the change at Reagan is obvious.“I sort of think back to the beginning,” he says.

“This is BA, Before Anabel, or BG, Before Garza. You almost get emotional because of the way it was.”Austin ISD isn’t the only school district in Texas with Early College high Schools.

This school year, 44 new early college high schools opened across the state.

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