Austin ISD moving forward with health, computer science academies

FILE - LBJ High School (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - LBJ High School (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Christmas present from the state capitol came early for the Austin Independent School District.

Two of their high schools, LBJ and Reagan Early College High Schools, learned this week they are recipients of a governor’s grant for innovative academies. They are two of only 19 high schools across the state to receive a portion of the $7.1 million awarded by the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Workforce Commission and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“We’re just thrilled,” said Michelle Wallis, Executive Director of AISD’s Office of Innovation and Development. “It will just accelerate this work at a time when it’s really needed.”

Wallis is the one who submitted the two grant proposals. The district can press on with plans to launch a Health Science Academy at LBJ, and a Computer and Information Technology Academy at Reagan in the fall.

Incoming freshman at Reagan will be able to graduate with a high school diploma, plus an Associate’s Degree in Computer Science with the help of Austin Community College and Dell.

At LBJ High School, ACC and Seton Healthcare will make it possible for seniors to graduate with an Associate’s Degree in pre-health science. That means the first two years in college typically devoted to prerequisites just to get into nursing school will already be complete.

“This is a win for not only Seton but for the entire community,” said Yvonne VanDyke, Chief Nursing Officer for the Seton Healthcare Family.

VanDyke knew she wanted to be a nurse at the age of five, and says her high school didn’t offer dual credit. When she got to college it was obvious which classmates had a head start.

“They had an advantage because they knew more about what was happening in the hospital, they had an understanding about the role of nurses, they knew some of the terminology, they knew how to use the equipment,” said VanDyke.

AISD hopes that by offering students a chance to get a leg up on their careers in high school, they will be more likely to graduate and go onto college.

Why LBJ and Reagan Early College High Schools?

Both LBJ and Reagan serve a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students, who are primarily Hispanic and African American.

The district says they have a lot of work to do to address disparities when it comes to preparing students for college.

  • 77 percent of white students are considered college ready in reading
  • 28 percent of African American students are considered college ready in reading
  • 34 percent of Hispanic students are considered college ready in reading

There is also currently a large gap between AISD’s graduation rate (89 percent) and the percentage of students going directly to college (61 percent).

The promising news is, more and more and more students at AISD are participating in early college high school programs.

Last school year, more than one third of AISD students in grades 9 through 12 completed advanced or dual credit courses.