Johnston High School: TEA Allows 'Repurposing'

Generations of Johnston High alums ponder the fate of the 'Pride of the Eastside'

On Wednesday, June 18, state Education Commissioner Robert Scott informed Austin ISD that he is granting the district's request to "repurpose" Johnston High School, in the wake of the earlier ruling by the Texas Education Agency that, following five years of inadequate scores on "accountability" measures, the school must be closed or reorganized under new staff and curriculum. On June 9, the AISD board formally adopted a repurposing proposal for Johnston, and last Thursday, June 12, district officials hosted a public meeting at the Johnston cafeteria. A full house of parents, students, and community members heard Superintendent Pat Forgione, District 2 board member Sam Guzmán, former City Council Member Raul Alvarez (now with AISD's Office of Redesign and recently elected to the Austin Community College board), and other administrators describe how they hope to repurpose the school and presented a program that Scott, in a letter to administrators, described as having "significant potential." Scott wrote that he expects the district "to implement the proposal in a focused and consistent manner well beyond the first two years; and [he is] ordering continued state oversight for that purpose."

Insisting that "the best is ahead of us," Forgione said that the school's recent success at raising standardized test scores, while not sufficient to avoid closure, had persuaded the state to consider reorganizing the school rather than closing it outright or bringing in non-AISD management. "The board is united in wanting to continue high school education on this campus, in this neighborhood," Forgione said. "And what made the difference [with the TEA] was the Johnston improvement in scores." According to the district's repurposing proposal, "two independent high school(s) may be created" for Johnston, "each with a rigorous college and career focus. These new schools will join the International High School that is already located on the Johnston campus, serving recent immigrants in grades 9-10."

State rules require reassigning 75% of the teaching staff, and 50% of the current students, and renaming the school. The district plan calls for hiring eight "master teachers" in various disciplines and paying incentives for experienced teachers to move to John­ston. Forgione said that roughly 50% of Johnston-district students already transfer to other schools, so those who choose the repurposed campus should be able to attend.

Audience questions ranged from "Will there be athletics?" (yes) to why the state and district are imposing the repurposing on the school. State law requires a change, came the answer, and Guzman pointed out that in previous public meetings, "the community asked us to repurpose the school." The audience included second- and third-generation alumni eager to sustain school history, and there was considerable sentiment to incorporate the name "Johnston" into whatever new name might replace it (the school's full name is Albert Sidney Johnston). Said Guzmán, "Whatever happens from here on out, we're going to keep a renewed vision for the 'Pride of the Eastside.'"

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Johnston High School, Pat Forgione, Texas Education Agency, Robert Scott

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