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Eastside Memorial could be on the move

Monday, June 19, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

At a hastily called meeting this weekend organized by local education advocates, members of the Eastside Memorial High School community gathered in the cafeteria to discuss an Austin Independent School District bond proposal that would move the school to a new facility on the old Anderson High campus.

Two members of the district’s Board of Trustees, President Kendall Pace and Trustee Ann Teich, were in attendance on Saturday as parents, students, alumni and other stakeholders shared their thoughts on the proposal. It would move the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, which is currently crammed into Lyndon B. Johnson High School, into the Eastside campus. Eastside would then move to what is now the Austin Alternative Learning Center (otherwise known as the old Anderson High).

Some expressed excitement about the possibility of an entirely new facility, tailor-made for the students of Eastside, which has been under consistent pressure to fill a building that is simply too big for the student population.

A middle school teacher said his students tell him regularly that they hope to avoid going there because of its reputation. He said a new facility could make kids excited about staying in the district for high school. Many of his students who can’t transfer to their preferred school plan to leave AISD altogether, he said.

A former Eastside teacher, Aimee Hendrix, was among those who emphasized the importance of the new location’s proximity to the Austin Community College Eastview Campus. Sanford Jeames, a current Health Science teacher at Eastside, cautioned that location alone wouldn’t dictate whether the school develops a closer relationship to ACC.

“I think there is a positive in the fact that Eastside Memorial is now an early college high school, so you do have a strong connection to ACC,” he said. “The negative that I would want to point out … (is) if the move to the new location at Anderson does not include any stronger collaboration with ACC or higher education, it defeats the purpose.”

There is also the question of what will happen to the legacy of Johnston High School, which became Eastside in 2008. Gabriel Estrada of Austin Voices for Education and Youth, who helped organize the event, said his uncle is among the veterans memorialized on the campus. Some Johnston alumni in attendance expressed fears that they will lose even more of that history if the school moves.

Eastside volunteer Monica Sanchez questioned why the board wasn’t securing funds to resituate LASA through other means. “If you want to move kids from Eastside to a different school, when is downtown moving?” she asked. “Now with this idea that’s being proposed, Austin ISD has become a participant in gentrification.”

Hilda Villalobos-Alvarez expressed frustration with the lack of clear information. “The district hasn’t really put anything out there for the parents or the students,” she told the Austin Monitor. “What’s going to happen when they come back to school? Is it going to be in their minds the whole entire summertime?

“The district doesn’t think about these kinds of things,” she said. “They just think they’re going to get a new building. The building is not the history; the history is the kids.”

“I feel upset because I don’t want to move,” said her son Gregorio Alvarez, an Eastside junior. “They have the Johnston stuff here. If they move us, what’s going to happen to all of that stuff? It’s kind of disrespectful to make all of this stuff and then just move it.”

“And then not tell us as students,” his mother added.

After the meeting, Pace told the Monitor the board is still set to vote on the bond today. She acknowledged that there needs to be more public input, but said the process is ongoing. “That won’t stop this week,” she said. “That will happen all throughout until the projects are complete.”

If the proposal isn’t approved by the board as part of the overall bond package, Eastside will stay where it is. If it does go through, Pace said it will be a win-win situation for the district. Eastside will be in a new facility, LASA will be able to grow and the district will have transformed the old Anderson campus, which currently holds condemned buildings. That would be the best outcome for the district overall, she said.

“Yes, not everyone is not going to be happy,” Pace said. “And, yes, there will have to be concessions made,” but there is a way to honor the past while looking toward the future.

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