Friends of Austin Middle School, you must act fast to save this high-performing, historic, neighborhood school. Galveston Independent School District’s trustees are contemplating a plan to permanently close it unless they hear from you before their curriculum committee meeting on Oct. 14.
Believe it or not, Austin isn’t on the chopping block because it’s a failure, but because it’s a success. Renovated by the taxpayers in 2003 for $11 million, Austin is a STEM magnet school, twice a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon school (2011 and 2017). With test scores consistently far above the state average, its overall rating from the Texas Education Administration in 2018-19 (the last year for which scores are available) was an “A” for “exemplary performance.”
Middle school students may apply to Austin, Central or Collegiate Academy (previously located at Scott, now at Weis). Students at Austin are admitted based on test scores, grades, behavior, attendance, and community service; 565 students attend the school, a little less than a third of the district’s middle-schoolers. Children from all backgrounds make up the student body: 54 percent are minorities and 57 percent low-income.
Central is on an upward trajectory; it was rated “C” in 2018-19 for “acceptable performance” and was on track for higher marks until COVID canceled testing. But Collegiate received an “F” for “unacceptable performance,” the district’s only campus to receive that low rating.
Unfortunately, Collegiate’s “F” seems to have more political resonance than Austin’s “A.” The district’s panicked response is to “realign” its middle school campuses by giving up on high-performing Austin, steadily improving Central, and struggling Collegiate.
It proposes to create two very large (950 students each) campuses at Weis and Central, with all fifth- through sixth-graders at Weis and all seventh- through eighth-graders at Central. If this proposal is adopted, the district plans neither to use the Austin building nor to sell it.
This is the district cutting off its nose to spite its face. Having used hard-won bond funds to renovate Austin’s campus, attracted a strong administration and faculty and built a successful program, the district should make the program available to as many students as possible for as long as possible. It should stay the course at Central and focus resources at Collegiate, where a turn-around is doable.
If the trustees feel that Austin’s admission process is unfair, it can use a lottery to select future classes so that every middle school student has an equal chance to attend, a system already in use at Oppe Elementary School.
Austin is important to its neighborhood and to Galveston — it has been an anchor here for 90 years. Once a campus is closed, it’s vulnerable to decay and ultimately to sale and demolition.
The proposed realignment of the district’s middle schools is a risky experiment that puts the success of Galveston’s middle school students at risk. Please let the trustees know that you oppose this plan by calling or emailing them and attending their curriculum committee meeting at the administration building at 6 p.m. Oct. 14.