October 3, 2007
For the students at Johnston High School, higher test scores and improved attendance are the only option.
At least that’s what Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott said at a community forum in the school’s cafeteria to hundreds of Johnston students, parents, faculty and alumni Tuesday night.
The school has been rated academically unacceptable since 2004 because of low test scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. If this year’s scores are not acceptable when they are reported next June, Johnston will close and students will be moved to other schools, said State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, at the meeting.
Johnston has a 35 percent lower TAKS score average, 10 percent lower attendance rate and
8 percent lower graduation rate than the district average, according to the Texas Education Agency School report card from 2005 to 2006.
“We are all here because the challenges Johnston faces are not unique,” Watson said. “It is important to Texas for Johnston to succeed. We must all do better, create opportunity and assure hope.”
Johnston students often face obstacles such as speaking English as a second language and working part-time or full-time jobs to support their families, said AISD spokeswoman Roxanne Evans. Another problem is that the teachers are not always experienced in meeting the needs of struggling students, according to the AISD Web site.
“Today we had 703 at school. We are supposed to have 1,800,” said Johnston Principal Celina Estrada-Thomas. She said 300 of those students do not speak English as their primary language and that 23 have learning disabilities.
AISD and the faculty of the school have plans to maximize attendance, TAKS performance, college and career preparation, student services and inclusion of special education classes, Estrada-Thomas said.
Johnston holds tutoring for students Monday through Thursday and Saturday morning, and holds a twilight school Monday through Friday for students who are falling behind to recapture their credits, Thomas said.
More than 40 tutors from UT have also come to Johnston to help the students, Watson said.
“Johnston must merit to stay open,” Watson said. “That means we must all work together. The stakes couldn’t be any higher.”
In the past year, Johnston has improved its dropout and attendance rates and lowered the amount of discipline referrals given out, Thomas said.
Johnston used to be home to the Liberal Arts Academy, but in 2003 was forced to combine with the Math and Science Academy at Lyndon Baines Johnson High School, said sociology senior and former Johnston High student Katie Walsh.
“The school had an amazing atmosphere while I was there from 2000 to 2002, which combined the academic rigors of the academy with many unique classes offered through the ‘host school,’ or non-academy program,” Walsh said. Johnston had automobile shop, baking and cosmetology classes, Walsh said.
Walsh said she only went to LBJ high school so she could continue taking classes at the academy.
“If we can’t figure out how to make it work, we will make it happen,” Scott said. He and the TEA will decide on Johnston’s fate next year.