Shrinking Austin schools consider combining

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Another community whose schools are shrinking is taking matters into its own hands, this time in Austin where parents and supporters are proposing to merge three neighborhood high schools with dwindling populations.

“We’re excited to present it instead of it being presented to us,” said Mildred Wiley, who heads the Community Action Council group that wants the Board of Education to approve combining Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy, Austin Polytechnical Academy and VOISE Academy high schools. The idea began about a year ago, she said.

“We thought it might be in the best interests of this campus facility, making sure we could be a comprehensive high school … starting in the 2016 school year,” Wiley continued from inside the schools’ library, joined by two of the affected principals.

The three open-enrollment schools share a building at 231 N. Pine and have only 412 students combined. Merging the schools would mean a single leadership team in the building instead of three.

The three principals support the merger plan, Wiley said, a sign of how dedicated the men are to the well-being of their students.

The business school’s enrollment fell below 100 students this year, according to CPS stats. That’s not enough students for the school to offer any electives, said Randel Josserand, a CPS supervisor who oversees a group of principals on the West Side.

Merging them into a single school — as they had been as Austin High School more than a decade ago — will grant students a broader and richer education, Josserand added. A strong high school needs at least 270 students to offer a full range of classes and programs, he said.

High schools were spared from the last round of school closings that shuttered a record 50 elementary schools CPS characterized as “half empty.” But with the growth of charter schools, many neighborhood schools have seen their populations plummet. With the five-year moratorium on school closings more than half over in a district scrambling for money, school communities have become more proactive in trying to solve their own problems.

CPS recently changed the rules for school closings that would permit such a merger and plan to announce which schools will be affected by Dec. 1. The Board of Education wouldn’t vote on any until the spring, according to the district.

Ogden and Jenner elementary schools on the Near North Side, as well as Morton and Dodge elementaries, which share a building at 431 N. Troy, also have considered combining.

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