Austin School Board meetings are held in a small room with harsh lights and rows of crowded chairs, but on Monday the room was brightly decorated with hand-made posters and thank-you notes lining the walls for School Board Appreciation month.
Governor Rick Perry declared January as School Board Recognition Month in 2009 and Austin schools came together to celebrate the board at their last meeting of the month.
The Jamie Bowie High School jazz choir performed three songs a cappella for board members at the start of the meeting. Several schools also pitched in with cookies and refreshments as well as posters and cards decorated by elementary school children.
Despite the celebrations, there were community members in attendance who were not there only to show appreciation.
Monica Guzman, a community relations consultant, spoke during the meeting about Allan Elementary School in East Austin. Allan Elementary closed as a public school and became a charter school in the 2012-2013 school year. The community fought against the change and at the end of the spring semester in 2013 the school was abandoned.
The Austin school board has yet to make a decision about what they will do with the facility.
“Hopefully it (Allan Elementary) will become a middle school so that students in that area will have a school that is closer to home,” Guzman said. “And hopefully it will have a dual language program. Anything else would be segregation that would set them up for failure in the future.”
“At that age they need as much as they can get,” Guzman said. “The teachers have to believe in them.”
Vincent Tovar, spokesperson for Pride of the Eastside, also spoke on the possibility of a dual language program at the school.
“Are East Austin parents informed about the benefits of dual language education, the way that West Austin parents are informed about dual language importance?” Tovar said. “A significant amount of parents want single language education at their schools. They don’t understand the benefits of dual language. How do we know where parents are getting information about dual language education?”
Tovar said parents may want a single language school because it can result in higher test results.
“Is it racist? To say that college prep can be in one language only?” Tovar said. “It’s about information. It’s about hard data for the parents.”
Cindy Anderson, parent of two in the Allan Elementary district, said the building should no longer be part of the Austin Independent School District.
“We can and should continue to respect the cultural and historical value of buildings but cannot place the importance of buildings over the importance of our children,” Anderson said.
Anderson also addressed the role of local media in the history of the decisions surrounding the school, saying the media often focuses on one side of the debate.
“The media needs to support public education instead of finding every reason to criticize,” Anderson said.
Other community members spoke at the meeting simply to offer appreciation for board members in honor of the appreciation month. Representatives for A Community for Education Austin and Boy Scouts troop 249 spoke about the work that trustees do and thanked them for their efforts.
Superintendent Meria Carstarphen thanked the participating schools for their efforts throughout the appreciation month. Carstarphen also announced plans looking forward to February – national African American History Month.
Carstarphen concluded the meeting announcing a two-hour delay for the school district on Tuesday due to winter weather conditions.