Austin Parents Say They're Shocked And Disappointed As They Confront Potential School Closures

Sep 9, 2019

Isela Guerra spent Thursday night at her first back-to-school event at Dawson Elementary. Her son had just started pre-K there, and she was excited to be an involved parent at the school she herself attended as a child. 

Then she found out Dawson was on the list of schools the Austin Independent School District has proposed closing.

“I was really kind of deflated when – as I’m driving away from a great time at the back-to-school night, after meeting my son’s teachers and seeing his classroom – to hear the news that Dawson was on the list to be closed,” she said. 

AISD had sent an email to parents that night after warning for months that it needed to close schools as enrollment continues to drop.

The plan proposes closing 10 elementary schools – Brooke, Dawson, Joslin, Sims, Pecan Springs, Maplewood, Palm, Metz, Ridgetop and Pease – and two middle schools, Webb and Bertha Sadler Means.

“All that excitement and things I had to look forward to just felt like were pulled out right from underneath me,” Guerra said. 

Although she lives in Dove Springs, Guerra asked for a transfer to Dawson because she wanted her son to be in the dual-language program and to be near his grandparents, who take care of him after school. She said she was also excited to share part of her childhood with him.

The decision to close Dawson is not final; the school board needs to vote on the proposal. But Guerra must decide whether to transfer her son to another school next year so he can be at the same school for the majority of his elementary years or stay at Dawson and risk having it close in 2024. 

Parents from all school communities on the list felt this same disappointment.

Parents said they were shocked Pease Elementary was on the list because it's registered as a historic landmark.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Koven Smith sends his son to Pease Elementary, an all-transfer school downtown. He said one thing that makes him sad is while students from other schools slated for closure will end up at new schools together, students at Pease could end up at schools all over the district. 

“The students come from all over the city. If Pease closes, all those students will be scattered to the wind,” he said. “For [my son], it will feel almost like we’ve moved to a new city when he goes to a new school."

Smith says many parents in the Pease community were shocked the school made the list because of its deep history. The school was built in the 1800s and is a registered historic landmark. 

“The current parents at Pease feel a certain responsibility to the historical legacy of Pease,” he said. “It’s not just – Can we keep our school open? It’s – This is an important part of Austin history, of Texas history, and in many ways, we – as the parents who happen to be there now at this moment, as this is happening – have a certain responsibility to those who came before us."

Candace Hunter has a fifth-grader at Maplewood Elementary, who was heading to Bertha Sadler Means for middle school. Now both schools could close. Hunter said Friday was emotional for her Maplewood friends, as they think about the school they're so proud of no longer existing. 

“The feeling I get right now from a lot of our parents is that they are not against this, they’re just shocked about it,” she said. “We just didn’t think it was going to happen.”

Hunter, who used to teach at both Bertha Sadler Means and Northeast High School, said the long timeline for the closures will mean a lot of uncertainty at each campus. 

“What we’re going to see is a teacher brain drain, a talent brain drain," she said. "And parents are going to start jumping ship."

News that Metz Elementary was on the list wasn't a surprise to teachers and parents from the community. They knew it was in for a change because of under-enrollment.

While nearby Sanchez Elementary is getting renovated, Sanchez students are attending Metz – though the two schools aren't functioning as one.

Teacher Eva Rosenthal said for years the two schools were almost competing for students to boost enrollment. Under the plan unveiled last week, they’ll consolidate into one school, and, Rosenthal said, everyone will have to work at bringing the communities together. 

“I just don’t think that by just placing two communities in one building it’s going to happen on its own,” she said. “I think it’s really going to need to be positively facilitated.”

The school board will talk about the proposed closures at its regularly scheduled work session Monday. It will also discuss a plan for community meetings to get feedback. The board is expected to take a final vote on the plan in November.