Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced Tuesday that he is lifting the threat of closure from Eastside Memorial High School.
The announcement came as Williams visited Eastside, which the state education agency found earlier this month to have met standards after making improvements in its graduation rate, attendance and test scores.
“It’s a good day for Austin, and it’s an even better day for Eastside Memorial,” Austin schools Superintendent Paul Cruz said.
Under a deal that Williams had struck with the Austin school district in 2013, Eastside still could have been shuttered if it didn’t again meet standards in the 2015-2016 school year, but Williams made it clear that the threat is over: “We ain’t closing the school,” he said, to the whoops and hollers of district officials, campus staff and community members.
“There’s quite a bit to praise today at Eastside Memorial,” Williams said. “Principal Bryan Miller, the teachers, administrators and staff provided rigorous academic instruction and high expectations for their students, and … the students of Eastside Memorial High School, through hard work and determination, demonstrated their academic ability.”
The school for years was branded by chronic academic failure.
Since 2008, the school has been closed by the state, renamed, then rebranded as two academies on the same campus, and then it was almost given over to a charter school operator to run. In 2013, shortly after a newly elected school board cut ties with the charter, the state threatened to close the school again unless a suitable partner could be found immediately.
The Eastside community and other education advocates rallied around the school and helped pick the Johns Hopkins-affiliated Talent Development Secondary, which just finished its second school year as a supporting partner. At nearly four years of tenure, Principal Bryan Miller also has been the longest-serving principal of Eastside, providing much-needed stability at the campus.
Despite progress, the school was tripped up by the state’s college readiness measure, resulting in failure to meet state standards in 2013 and 2014. The campus had been on track to meet state accountability standards both years, but final criteria set by the state in the spring raised the standard for college readiness, and Eastside missed that mark.
“I knew from the day I walked in they could always do it,” Miller said. “The numbers did not reflect who they were. Now the numbers reflect more where they are, but only lend to where they are going to go.”
School and district officials say there is still work to do, including boosting the number of students in the underenrolled school.
Parents and community members in attendance cheered the news Tuesday, and said they hope the school’s momentum continues forward.
“It’s good to hear these kids will have a chance,” parent Benjamin Robbins said. “These kids were beat down. But these kids showed that no matter how dark the tunnel, they can shine lights brighter than that.”
Senior Alexus Robinson said she’s proud of her school.
“The people here are what make it awesome,” she said. “They really care for you and really want you to succeed. You don’t get that a lot of places. That’s the unique quality were have here, that we’re dedicated to each other.”