Two overlapping, community-driven events Saturday illustrated the divide in opinions among parents, teachers and other East Austin residents on a proposal to build a new Eastside Memorial High School at another location.
The plans are being considered as part of a bond proposal expected to go before voters in November that entails relocating the nationally ranked Liberal Arts and Science Academy out of LBJ High School to become a stand-alone school on the site where Eastside Memorial stands.
Eastside Memorial and the International High School, both currently housed at the former Johnston High campus, would get a new building at the site of the former L.C. Anderson High School that would serve about 850 students.
Some in the community, including about 20 Johnston High School alumni and supporters who held a protest Saturday at the campus, resent the Austin school district for what they say is a lack of community engagement. They also said bringing LASA, which has a student body of mostly white, middle- to upper-class students, to largely minority East Austin has the marks of gentrification.
“We are here to protest the lack of respect that the school board has given to the Johnston High School Alumni and the East Austin community by excluding them in decisions regarding East Austin schools,” said Larry Amaro, president of the Johnston/Eastside Memorial High Schools Ex-Students Association.
An hour earlier, not far from where the protesters gathered, about 30 community members and a couple of school board members met in the cafeteria to talk and learn more about the proposal.
When Eastside choir teacher Meghan Buchanan first heard the proposal, she said she was “raging mad” just like many parents and community members, fearing the displacement that has so often been the narrative in East Austin.
But as she learned more, Buchanan said she saw the benefits for Eastside: a brand-new building with a more modern layout, better resources and partnership opportunities with the proximity to Austin Community College, the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex and other resources. District officials have said the location will give Eastside — which begins its early college program in the fall — better access to ACC classes.
“The more I think about it, the more I get excited,” said Buchanan, who helped organize the meeting. “But I am in the loop now. I’ve had time to learn a lot about it, and our families and students haven’t.”
She said the school board should delay its vote on the bond proposal, scheduled for Monday, by two weeks to allow time for more community meetings.
Hilda Villalobos-Alvarez, a parent of an Eastside junior who stood up to speak during the meeting, said her son’s first reaction to the proposal was to ask, “Why haven’t they asked us (the students)?” and “Are we going to be Eastside still?”
Vincent Tovar, whose children attend Austin schools and who helped organize Saturday’s community meeting, said he understands why some people are concerned about the move contributing to gentrification, but he sees a great opportunity for students in the new location.
“I get that we want to preserve the history. I see the problems with pushing histories around and pushing schools around and looking like LASA’s gentrifying,” Tovar said. “But I think that Eastside having a new building on top of this beautiful hill around these great resources is hard to pass up.”