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Commentary: Both LASA, LBJ high schools benefit from split, more space

The Austin Independent School District’s Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee has reaffirmed its recommendation that the Liberal Arts and Science Academy become a stand-alone school with a 1,600-student capacity and that the school be moved to a more accessible central location.

LASA currently shares a campus with LBJ Early College High School in the northeast corner of Austin. The campus advisory councils of both LASA and LBJ Early College High School have also recommended that the schools be located on separate campuses because of a lack of space that negatively affects each program’s growth. However, public discussions about these recommendations have included misconceptions about LASA and its efforts to be more reflective of its community.

As a LASA parent who is active in diversity outreach, I would like to join in creating awareness about several initiatives, which LASA established to attract a more diverse student pool.

This year, LASA changed its admissions process as part of its efforts to diversify its student body. Eighty percent of the incoming freshman class was admitted based on their application rubric scores. The remaining 20 percent was admitted based on their rubric scores and other factors, such as whether the student will be first generation in his or her family to attend college or is a member of an underrepresented student population on campus compared to Austin’s demographic profile. All students who were admitted met a high threshold.

Though the full effects cannot be known immediately, this substantial change has much potential. It was a change initiated by LASA, not one imposed upon the school.

Parents and students also have committed to increasing access to the high-quality education LASA offers. For example, LASA goes to every middle school in Austin to recruit during the school day and hosts evening programs. LASA goes to families rather than relying on families to come to us. Spanish translations are available for all school presentations and for our weekly online newsletter.

Parents and Friends of LASA is a parent-based group from which the Latino Outreach Committee and the African-American Outreach Committee have grown. Parents and Friends of LASA supports efforts to increase diversity and to better the experience of minority students.

The split between LASA and LBJ came about because of a funding and programming opportunity for LBJ that required it to separate administratively and physically from LASA. Now, the LBJ Early College High School is expanding to include an LBJ Health Sciences Academy, which will draw more students and require more space. For LASA, limited space means that hundreds of students are turned away each year.

Some question whether magnet schools should exist at all. If our common goal is to give our children the best education possible, then we must include programs designed to fit their varied needs, including those who need an advanced curriculum.

Every school at every level should offer advanced classes. However, having advanced programs embedded within schools and having rigorous magnet programs are not mutually exclusive ideas.

LASA provides a sense of community where students can pursue their academic interests without being bullied or ostracized. Often, academic high achievers are categorized by that trait alone.

At LASA, students are in a social environment where their interests do not define them as “different.” One student can be excited about playing sports, taking linear algebra and going to prom. Another can dedicate long hours to building a robot, writing a play and going to football games. They are seen as the multifaceted people they are while still getting the type of educational experience they need.

I support moving to a separate campus where a larger number of students of all backgrounds, races, ethnic groups and socioeconomic status can be part of this unique community. Additionally, a centralized location would make commuting more equitable for the student body as a whole.

Torres is co-chair of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy Latino Outreach Committee and parent of a LASA sophomore.

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