Changes abound for upcoming APS school years

Published 6:36 pm Friday, June 23, 2023

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There’s been a lot of moving parts to Austin Public Schools this past year with the most recent being the School Board’s decision on June 12 to merge Woodson Kindergarten Center students back into the neighborhood elementary schools.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Dr. Joey Page sat down and talked about that change as well as some others parents and school employees will begin to prepare for in the coming school years.

Woodson Kindergarten Center

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In some ways, the board’s decision earlier this month was just a continuation of discussion first brought to the publics attention this past spring.

During a May meeting, the board held its first vote on the realignment, that moves kindergarten students into the elementary schools and in turn would move early childhood learning students into the Woodson building.

Early childhood learning students spent this past school year in the elementary schools after being displaced from the Community Learning Center at Queen of Angels Catholic Church. 

During that May meeting the board voted 4-3 against the move, but left the door open to revisit the topic at a later date.

For some, the move was being decided to quickly and without enough information being put out ahead of the vote.

“On paper, this is a no-brainer and it’s $500,000 that we can put into programming and other needs,” Board member Cece Kroc said during the May meeting, maintaining several times during the meeting that she could eventually agree to the realignment, but that she wanted to see more planning first. “The last couple days, I had to take a step back in. This is really difficult. We’re asking to change something that’s not broken. It’s not just not broken, it’s a place of excellence.” 

The board also faced push-back from parents and teachers who expressed concerns of maintaining specialized curriculum for kindergarten students and not getting enough community feedback for the idea.

“I’m concerned the facility study provides only a number on paper,” said Andrea Larson, a teacher at Woodson. “Not the amount of space for children to grow and develop in.”

“I’m not sure these can be replicated in another space,” added long time teacher Chris Kasak.

However, Page, at the time and again this week, said that the move for Woodson students aligns with the district’s strategic plan.

“That’s all part of our comprehensive programming, not that it’s necessarily unique to Woodson,” Page said Wednesday. “There will be a continuation of programming in our elementary buildings. That’s one of the gifts of space that we have.”

One of those advantages will be the staff available to continue the education of Woodson students.

“They will be working with certified staff in physical education, in art, in music and so we look at that as a value add for our kindergarten students,” Page said, adding. “The day will be a little longer for students and the curriculum will look a little bit different.”

Page also said that there are some practical reasons for moving Woodson students to the elementary schools, including cost savings that touches across staffing and bussing. For instance, an administration position at Woodson has been eliminated as Principal Jill Rollie has been shifted to a new role as Sumner Elementary School.

Past principal Sheila Berger is now the district coordinator of K-4 Curriculum, Teacher Mentorship and EL Programming.

The move also streamlines the bussing situation in terms of how many routes will run, and how many times students shift schools during their time in APS.

“We’ve had a lot of transitions with our school district. Kindergarten to elementary to IJ, Ellis and the high school,” Page said. “This eliminates one of our transitions. We get to have them longer in our elementary buildings and I think that really helps with our relationships building with families.”

The challenge now is getting the transition of Woodson students and staff integrated into the elementary schools when the 2024-25 school year gets underway, the first year of the new realignment.

“The biggest work now will be the distribution of staff for the elementary for our Woodson staff,” Page said. “We’ll start on that and make sure we have all the resources and supplies we need. We need a year to get the plans in place and get ready for our schools to receive our kindergarten students.”

Neighborhood schools

Another change the district is making has to do with which schools students will be attending for the upcoming school year.

Students will now be attending their neighborhood schools, rather than being able to attend schools outside their neighborhood boundaries.

Page said the move goes back to how the district was originally set up, but that over time that has shifted, creating an imbalance among the schools.

“We’re not going to have the movement around our district because it really had our buildings maxed out in space,” Page said. “That’s how it’s drawn up to be. Over time I think a lot of choice was given. Over time it got to be a bit much for our system to handle.”

Currently, Sumner and Neveln elementary schools are running under capacity, while Banfield and Southgate schools are being stretched to capacity.

Some families will still be able to choose where their kids go to school, but that will depend on prior programming the students are be enrolled in. 

“Programming remains in schools,” Page said. “Students will go to that school because that’s where the programming is.”


Also starting next year will mark Sumner Elementary’s return to a traditional schedule, a shift from the 45/15 schedule.

Page said that the district had to apply every three years to maintain the schedule and that the application would be up this past year.

However, looking at the last few years, the district opted to return the school to the same schedule as the other schools.

“What we looked at, saw in our data, it’s not fulfilling our goals and objectives with that,” Page said. “The other part is it also created a racially isolated school. That was something we needed to address before the state addresses it.”

“That’s also been a push for us, again utilizing our buildings efficiently is really adhering to our neighborhood schools,” Page added.