Mendez College of Austin ISD (Photo by Jana Birchum)
Students, families and educators of Martin and Mendez Colleges still many unanswered questions after the Austin ISD Board of Directors announced early last month that the two schools would no longer offer sixth graders. The plan has been proposed as a solution to declining enrollment and academic shortcomings on both campuses, but supporters fear it will not lead to better educational outcomes and is instead a step toward closing campuses.
Gabriel Estradea former educator, directs Austin Voices for Education and Youth’s Eastside Memorial Vertical Team, a collective that defends the interests of Eastside schools, including Martin. He told the the Chronicle the decision was made before AISD leaders consulted with the community, making the district’s promise to work towards equity in education “laughable”. Both schools served a large number of Black and Latino students.
“They say, ‘We know what’s best for you’…but at the same time, why would you do something so drastic like that without any conversation with the community?” said Platform. Shrinking schools, he says, will lead to even bigger drops in enrollment and possibly closures.
Emilie SawyerThe seventh grader is the second of his five children to attend Martin, but the Comal Street lakeside campus will no longer be an option for the three youngest, enrolled in elementary schools that also don’t offer sixth year. “I would have to send them to college for sixth grade and then move on to Martin for seventh grade, and that’s just not sustainable,” Sawyer said. Her eldest son was lured to school by Martin’s Innovation Academy, created in 2015 for students wishing to specialize in STEAM courses (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). As the academy cohorts begin in sixth grade, it is unclear how or if this will continue in Martin.
Sawyer doesn’t see how these changes will help student outcomes, nor has the district made much effort to convince her and other parents, “which makes me wonder if they know. same”. She alluded to the district’s many past changes to Eastside schools, including the 2019 vote to close four elementary campuses that primarily served children of color, two of which (Metz and Brooke) sent students to Martin.
“I just don’t want all this upheaval to happen, and we’re still not following through and giving the kids what they need.” -Emily Sawyer
“I just don’t want all this upheaval to happen,” Sawyer said, “and we’re still not following through and giving the kids what they need.” Some studies suggest keeping sixth graders on elementary campuses has benefits for some students, but Sawyer said the conversation should take place separately, after the district spends more time formulating a plan and consulting with parents and educators.
This would include educators such as Eric Ramos – a special education teacher who mainly works with sixth graders – who are unsure where they will be working next year. Teaching contracts guarantee they will be offered a position elsewhere in the district, but Ramos is not sure that all of his colleagues will find the move worthwhile as job security at AISD becomes more precarious. He says last-minute scrambling by staff is a sign the district’s plan was half-baked from the get-go. He also does not understand why Martin, who obtained the passing grade of the Texas Education Agencyis grouped with Mendez, who has struggled for years under different management teams, the last of which is being replaced for the 2022-23 school year.
No more mask mandates: At a special meeting called last week, AISD trustees voted to drop mandatory mask requirements on its campuses starting Monday. The move came as Travis County reentered Stage 2 of the local COVID-19 risk-based guidelines, which advise no special precautions for ordinary indoor and outdoor activities, except for travel. The decision was met with mixed feelings, as some are ready to return to post-Omicron normalcy and others remain concerned for those with compromised immunity. “We are Austin; we respect each other’s differences,” Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said. “Let’s all support each other, masked or not.”