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Norman and Sims end school year as separate schools, before combining this fall

Wednesday, May 30, 2018 by Claire McInerny, KUT

The Austin Independent School District is hosting a picnic Saturday to introduce the Norman and Sims elementary school communities to one another before they combine as one school in August.

Students from Norman will go to school in the Sims building next year, while Norman gets a major renovation. The merger came out of the bond voters passed in November.

The two East Austin schools are under-enrolled, so the district proposed investing $25 million to renovate one of them, adding new technology and creating a modern building. If enrollment in the area stays low over the next few years, all the students will move into the new building.

Opponents have protested at school board meetings over the past few months. Community member Casey Seeboth said he wanted to keep the schools separate, with smaller class sizes.

“That’s a lot of money, and there’s no reason it can’t be used to improve both campuses,” he told the board in March. “According to the assessment, the buildings are in pretty good shape. What I heard was the administration wants to trick out one campus, with new concepts.”

But the board went ahead with its plan.

Former Norman Principal Wendy Mills will become the principal of the school, which will be called Norman/Sims Elementary. The interim principal at Sims, Renee Conley, will serve as assistant principal. It will function as one school, with two mascots and a combined dress code.

Mills said no one lost a job with the consolidation, but some teachers were moved to other schools if there were too many teachers in one subject area.

One parent concern Mills said she’s heard over the last few months was about support staff.

“Are we still going to have parent support specialists? Will we still have counselors?” she said. “We’ve been able to calm their nerves on that one.”

Mills said she understands the disappointment families may feel about losing a neighborhood school community, but she wants everyone to focus on the new school the district will have in a few years.

“This is the right thing to do at this time,” she said. “I think we just need to embrace the change and look forward to all of the amazing things that will come out of this new facility, this new community space.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photos by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT.

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