AUSTIN (KXAN) – It’s an important question for parents – just how good is my child’s school? And where are the best schools in Central Texas?
The Houston-based nonprofit Children at Risk recently released its rankings for every public school in the state. The group used their own methodology which includes a number of factors including test scores, college entrance exam performance, attendance and graduation rates.
When it comes to Central Texas high schools, Austin ISD’s Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) took the top spot. The East Austin campus happens to be in the same building as the school at the bottom of the list, AISD’s LBJ Early College High School.
LBJ is on the first floor and LASA is on the second, but they share athletics, fine arts and a mascot. Their seniors also graduated together last week, but parents and administrators say comparing the two is unfair.
“It is not apples to apples,” said Lisa Terrell whose son is a junior at LBJ. Her husband is also an assistant principal.
LBJ parents emphasize the campus is a traditional public school that takes transfers and students who live in the attendance zone.
“This school receives students from some very difficult backgrounds,” said Lisa Henry whose son is also a junior at LBJ.
LASA is a magnet school. Students must apply and go through a highly competitive selection process which I based on grades, test scores, teacher recommendations and their ability to pass a gifted and talented exam. Last school year, 550 students applied from across the world and only 330 got in.
But LASA’s principal Stacia Crescenzi says it’s not about one school being better than another – it’s about having choices to meet individual student needs.
“There are brilliant students at LBJ and they are doing amazing things,” said Crescenzi. “There are brilliant students at my campus and they are doing amazing things.”
Despite LBJ’s low ranking, principal Sheila Henry says her campus is on the rebound.
“That data does not represent what’s going on inside this building,” said Henry. “I can tell you that.”
Henry said there is plenty to brag about starting with a growing number of students passing state end of course exams.
“100% [passing] in biology, 84 percent in US History,” said Henry. “We’re 76 percent [passing] in Algebra One – that’s up 20 percent from last year.”
Then there’s the early college program that is putting students like Omary Henry, 16, on track to graduate with an associate’s degree from Austin Community College.
“By age 21, 22 I will already have my master’s degree which is really young compared to a lot of my peers who don’t have this opportunity,” said Omary.
It is what sold his parents on the school.
“They have gone overboard to make sure this is a success and it is,” said Charles Henry, Omary’s father.
For Omary, his goal is more than getting ahead.
“I want to be an example saying, ‘hey you can do this. It’s not hard. All it requires is a little faith and hard work.”’
LBJ students must pass a college readiness exam to start taking college courses. When the program launched last year eight students met the readiness standards. By October, Henry said her campus had an additional 57 ninth graders eligible to start their college process. Right now, 14 students are on track to graduate with their associate’s degree next year.
The campus is now their own testing site for the college readiness exam and will be testing students during the summer and regularly during the school year.