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Webb Middle School parents react to closure proposal

Parents are not fooled by this political flim-flam: Illene Jones, a parent of a 14-year-old Webb student, gave a passionate speech chastising a plan she said would "distribute our children like merchandise."

There are very moving pictures of parents in the audience at this meeting, parents protesting the closing of the school.

By Laura Heinauer

More than 200 people packed a cafeteria at Webb Middle School on Thursday, most of them to condemn a proposal to close the campus in May because of students' poor performance on state standardized tests.

"This school doesn't even have enough textbooks to send home with the children so they can study," said Melissa Mullins, parent of a sixth-grader. "They need more assistance, not less."

Austin Superintendent Pat Forgione said he wants the school board to order the campus, just west of Interstate 35 off St. Johns Avenue, closed before the state does.

The school has received the state's lowest rating for three years, and if the students fail to meet passing standards in any area on the state achievement test this spring, the state could require closing or alternative management.

School board members, many of whom were in attendance Thursday, are expected to vote on Forgione's proposal next month.

"We must think this through and do what's best for our children," Forgione said, adding that Webb's faculty and campus advisory council support his recommendation.

Almost one-third of Webb's 663 students come from families that constantly move into and out of the area, which can reverse test gains. Nine of 10 Webb students are from low-income families. About half don't understand English.

Nearly 40 percent of Webb's teachers declined to return to the campus last year, one of the highest teacher turnover rates among Austin middle schools.

During the meeting, some questioned why the district would abandon Webb when Johnston High School, which received the state's lowest rating for the past three years, is in a similar situation.

District officials have said that unlike at Webb, Austin has received state and private grants to restructure Johnston as part of a nationwide trend to remake high schools. The district has not formulated a plan for redesigning middle schools.

Timing was another consideration, Forgione said in a 45-minute explanation of the situation.

Because of the opening of Garcia Middle School this fall, space for Webb students is available at two nearby schools, Dobie and Pearce. By consolidating and being more efficient with resources, the considera- tions of the taxpayers are also being addressed, Forgione said.

The closure also gives the district a facility in which it could put an all-boys school or middle school for immigrant students, he said.

The audience wasn't swayed.

"You are sending our kids to two of the worst schools in this city," said Elaine Roth, parent of a 13-year-old daughter.

Dobie and Pearce were rated "unacceptable" by the state in August, Pearce for the second straight year. Both have received the state's lowest rating in previous years.

"What happens when they are in our boat?" Roth asked.

Illene Jones, a parent of a 14-year-old Webb student, gave a passionate speech chastising a plan she said would "distribute our children like merchandise."

— Laura Heinauer
Austin American-Statesman


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