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I speak in opposition to closing eight Austin elementary schools proposed by the AISD Facilities Task Force. I am a proud Pease parent of a 5 th grade son and 6 th grade daughter. Seven years ago, we transferred our children to Pease because our neighborhood school in East Austin was noted as academically acceptable, but it was not. While not representative of all East Austin schools, kindergarten kids were learning colors and letter recognition in January. First grade kids could not read in the middle of the school year. We were unwilling to gamble with our children’s education while teachers, administrators, and politicians figured it out.

As you likely know, Pease Elementary is historic. At 135 years old, it is the oldest, continually running public school in Texas. Rated exemplary by the TEA, Pease has high parent involvement, small classes, treats students like she or he is capable of greatness, and has wonderful teachers. However, the Facilities Task Force has threatened to close Pease and other high performing schools.

Pease’s historic nature surpasses a founding date and diverse numbers - 49% Latina/o, 27% white; 21% African American and 2% Asian (2009-2010, TEA data). Our children come from twenty-seven zip codes in Austin. Simply, Pease has achieved more racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity than any other elementary school in Austin. Pease’s diversity is intentional and it reflects an unwavering commitment amidst a city largely segregated by race, income, and access to a quality education.

When Pease opened in 1876, I would have been a slave only thirteen years before. It is easy to forget this difficult part of history and the Jim Crow laws in Austin that served to keep people of color in our place. During World War I, 80% of African Americans lived in East Austin. Most African Americans left their homes early in the morning, travelling west to clean the homes of white people, care for their children, fix machines, and collect garbage. While this is honest work, it was all we were expected to be. With surges of migration in the 1920s, a Mexican American color line also emerged in Austin pushing them to the adjacent parts of East Austin.

In 1970, there were 18 schools in East Austin with more than 90% African American students and 60% of Mexican American students. In 1986, there were more white and black children sitting next to one another in school. Since the 1990s, with the introduction of “freedom of choice” and neighborhood schools, we have become more segregated than in 1970. Throughout this time, Pease has remained diverse with African American, Latina/o/Hispanic, bi-ethnic, and white children from working and middle class families for many years with children of color being the majority for thirty years.

Segregated schools for children of color (e.g. Blackshear, Olive Street, Comal Street, and East Avenue) were separate, but hardly equal. Although segregated services and institutions provided social glue and uplifted communities, it did not (and does not) compensate for the economically exploitive system that Austin’s Jim Crow customs and laws created for almost a century. It is this exploitative system that is the focus of our concern and what makes Pease truly historical.

Austin's segregation persists - in order to be assured you can attend a high quality, public school you have to live in certain zip codes or go through a highly selective magnet school application process. This is simply wrong.

We preach to children that it is important to get an education for their future. We scold certain ethnic communities for “not valuing education” and “making excuses.” Pease (and these other school’s) children attend school, do their homework, and score well on TAKS. Parents are involved regardless of whether we work one or two jobs (day or night), we are a single parent, whether we never went to college, whether English is not our first language, or we are poor. It is not acceptable to shift thousands of Latino/a and African American children from exemplary schools to less academically rigorous ones to save money nor to close down central aspects of our communities when we have followed the rules AISD set.

There are alternative ways to fill the budget deficit other than making permanent decisions such as closing schools. It does not appear the Task Force considered options posed to the public in surveys earlier in the year. Leasing or selling unused space and better utilizing space as well as current

resources more efficiently should be the starting points rather than teaching and learning. Other options

should include selling or leasing the AISD Central Office on West 6

space at Reagan High School or other schools in the district.

hands-on and see what is happening in our schools. Another option is cutting central administrative positions by 15 to 20% and their professional development in order to avoid laying-off high performing

teachers and staff who are immediately responsible for teaching children.

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Street and relocating to existing

This would allow administrators to be

In Milliken v. Detroit (1974), dissenting Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said, “Our nation, I fear, will be ill-served by the Court’s refusal to remedy separate and unequal education, for unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.” For decades, Pease teaches our children how to live with one another and serves as a daily example of Dr. Martin Luther King’s beloved community. Through these lessons, I pray my children learn to be better than my flawed generation and generations before by holding steadfast to values of respect, care, and concern for ALL people.

Truly diverse, exemplary schools are models for the future of education in our country. Yet, diversity and inclusion are ideals that we continue to struggle. Pease is not the problem. The insufficient progress by AISD to offer high quality, accessible, diverse schools regardless of one’s zip code is THE problem.

Pease Elementary…historic, exemplary, and diverse.

Yvonne Ortiz-Prince

Resident of East Austin Dean of Student Affairs Huston-Tillotson University

512.779.5259