LASA and LBJ Students Want to Unify in a School Divided

Mar 9, 2017

Students at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy and LBJ High School have developed a set of short-term solutions to increase collaboration and improve relationships between the two schools, located on the same campus in Northeast Austin.

The students’ suggestions follow a district committee's recommendation that LASA be moved to its own campus, but that recommendation isn't final and any move could take years. In the meantime, a student working group wants to break down barriers that have been erected between the two schools over the years.

Students identified two main problems on campus: As enrollment grows, the schools must share limited space, and the two school communities have no common purpose.

“We want to find ways, even small ways, to just bring our communities closer together where they’ve drifted apart over the last 12, 15, 20 years," said LASA senior Oscar Newman, one of 10 LASA and LBJ students on the planning group. The students say they’re the ones in the schools every day and any solution should come from them, instead of the district or campus advisory councils. Those are groups of parents, teachers and alumni. 

“We’re the experts on it," LASA student Emily Yi said. "We live this life every day. We know what the tensions are. We know where things are complicated, and we know things we need to fix.”

We're the experts on it. We live this life every day. We know what the tensions are. We know where things are complicated, and we know things we need to fix. — LASA student Emily Yi

The short-term solutions include aligning bell schedules, designating common study areas and creating clubs for both LASA and LBJ students. Right now, LASA students start the school day before LBJ students.

“You can go a whole school day without realizing there’s a whole other school on campus, and you’d only realize that if you had shared athletics," said Quinn Simpson, another LASA student on the committee. "We want there to be opportunities for students to interact, to have shared clubs, to have easy sharing of UIL [University Interscholastic League] activities, of athletics, because those are the things where you find that common purpose.”

Longer term goals include allowing students to take classes at both LBJ and LASA as long as students meet the prerequisites. 

LASA was originally placed on the LBJ campus as a magnet program in the 1980s. Ten years ago, it was separated into its own school but kept in the same building.

LBJ is senior Hannah Gronwald's neighborhood school. She moved to Austin from Arkansas right before her freshman year.

“Everyone kept asking me the question, ‘Don’t you go to LASA?’ and I said, ‘What’s that? What's LASA?’ And then they had to explain it to me," she said. "They're like, 'There's a completely different school upstairs and then we're downstairs,' and I was like, 'Oh I never knew.' I still get the question to this day, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be in LASA?’ 'No, I attend LBJ.' Everyone’s so shocked to hear it and it's like why?”

When asked why they're shocked, she said: “Because of, as much as I hate to say it, because of my skin color." 

Nearly 900 students attend LBJ, but only 12 of them, including Gronwald, are white. Meanwhile, 55 percent of LASA is white. The district has faced criticism that student demographics at LASA don’t reflect student demographics district-wide. That's one reason LASA changed its admissions policy to allow race as a consideration. While students say they discussed the history of LASA and notice the racial differences at the schools, it wasn’t a part of this plan.

The Austin School Board is expected to take a final vote on whether to move LASA by the end of the month.