Garrison to retire after 16 years as principal

When Winsley Melancon was displaced from New Orleans in 2005 by the devastating Category 5 Hurricane Katrina, her life changed. She was living in the Austin Convention Center, well aware that she could not return to her old school, her old friends.

It will go on, and it’ll be McCallum High School.  Kind of like when the senior class leaves, it’s the not the same, but it keeps going on.”

— Principal Mike Garrison

When her mother went looking for a new school for her, a bus driver recommended McCallum. Immediately upon arriving at the McCallum campus, principal Mike Garrison, then just starting his second year as the school’s principal, welcomed her with open arms.

“She tells me she took a walk to Sunshine Drive and saw the campus and fell in love,” Melancon said. “When she walked into the doors she saw Mr. Garrison walking and introduced herself. She explained to him that I needed a new school to attend. He said to her, ‘This may not be what your child is used to; however, we’ll treat her like family!’”

Melancon started at Mac the next Monday and quickly found a home; Garrison, who had heard from her mother about how much she loved music, introduced her to the band director,Carol Nelson.

We were able to get Winsley a donated trombone from the choir director at Covenant Presbyterian Church,” Nelson said. “I gave Winsley trombone lessons, and she made a First Division on a Class II Trombone Solo in the spring semester.  Winsley also went on the band trip with us to Winter Park, Colo., on scholarship.”

Winsley says Garrison served as a source of comfort and a mentor for the rest of her time in high school.

“Garrison and his amazing faculty made sure I got all the counseling I needed from my trauma I experienced,” Melancon said. “They also never treated us different; when I did wrong, he would tell me to shape up, because he knew I was so much better. I’m forever grateful for his kindness, starting with my mother. In two short years at McCallum I made lifelong friends and amazing memories. I’m sad that there will be an entire new generation that doesn’t see his greatness!”

Garrison, who has similarly worked with other high school students in his tenure as principal, announced Thursday that he will be retiring at the end of the school year. He has spent 40 years in education; 17 as a teacher, seven as an assistant principal and 16 as principal.

“I’ve been eligible to retire for probably about six or seven years; I have reached that point in the TRS [Teacher Retirement System],” Garrison said. “So it is always there; it’s always on your mind. [Now] I get to spend a little more time with my family. Strike off on new adventures, new opportunities, while I’m still young enough and healthy enough to do something else after education. I do look forward to that opportunity be creative and find something new to engage in. No matter what I find, it will never be as rewarding as anything in education. Working with teachers, students, parents; there’s nothing like that.”

When I did wrong, he would tell me to shape up, because he knew I was so much better. I’m forever grateful for his kindness.”

— Winsley Melancon on Principal Mike Garrison

Garrison grew up in Bulverde, Texas, as the second-oldest out of 10 children. After coaching and teaching, he took his first administrative job in Pasadena ISD, then moved to Austin in 1998, where he was an assistant principal at Dripping Springs and Bowie. He started as principal at McCallum in 2003.

He said that it was difficult to send the email notifying staff of his decision, as he will miss working with the McCallum community, but he has faith in the school continuing without him.

“It’s sad, because we’re family here, and I’ll miss seeing these guys on a day-to-day basis and working with them,” Garrison said. “But I know they’re going to be fine. They’re all sharp people, professional people; they love students and love McCallum. It won’t be the same, but it will go on, and it’ll be McCallum High School.  Kind of like when the senior class leaves; it’s the not the same, but it keeps going on.”

Carol Nelson, who has known Garrison for as long as he has worked at McCallum, said that she was shocked at the announcement, and it was a deeply emotional experience going to talk to him about it.

“I just came in [to Garrison’s office] to say, ‘What?’ Then I hugged him,” Nelson said. “Then he was running over to the Kleenex. I said, ‘Thank you,’ and he said, ‘No, it’s for me!’”

Selena De Jesus
Senior Elijah Griffin wishes Principal Mike Garrison the best of luck and congratulates him on his pending retirement the day after Garrison announced his decision in an email to the faculty. Photo by Selena De Jesus.

Parents and students say that Garrison is a supportive leader, one who attends as many school events as possible, and is deeply involved in the community.

“Mr. Garrison is everywhere,” parent Amy Hufford said. “Whether it’s attending opening night of a MacTheatre show, cheering at an athletics event or personally attending to one student’s needs, he unfailingly demonstrates his commitment to the Mac community with his time and attention. His model of being completely present for whatever the moment calls for is a lesson in leadership.”

Parent Charlotte Sobeck remembers Garrison as a calming presence during the shooting threats that occured in February.

“The morning after a threat of gun violence at McCallum, I went up to the school out of concern for my son’s safety that day; Mr Garrison was in front of the school taking time himself to calm the worries of parents and kids,” she said. “I felt much better after talking to him.  He is accessible, patient and kind, great leadership qualities. He is quick to let parents know what is happening at school as well as online in a way that does not drive fear deeper, but instead helps us let it go and know he is doing everything possible to keep McCallum kids safe and calm so they can focus on their education, as it should be.”    

Whether it’s attending opening night of a MacTheatre show, cheering at an athletics event or personally attending to one student’s needs, he unfailingly demonstrates his commitment to the Mac community.”

— McCallum parent Amy Hufford

Many students interviewed praised Garrison for his friendliness and good attitude.

“Although his title says principal, throughout my four years at Mac I’ve always seen him as a friend, thanks to the constant jokes he cracks and the good vibes he gives off,” senior Paul Raper said.

One quality students noted in particular was the effort he makes to make each student feel noticed and welcomed.

“I think he genuinely care[s] about people; he go[es] out of his way to say hi to you,” junior Shanta Graves said. “He always ask[s] questions about how your day was going, and it seem[s] like he [is] interested in getting to know each student he [sees].”

English teacher Diana Adamson said that he while he takes a deeply individual approach to leadership, Garrison also knows when to stay hands-off.

“He supports his teachers, which allows us to support our students,” Adamson said. “I don’t even know the words, because he’s allowed us to be the ones who are right there, but at the same time he knows every kid in the school. He can stand in the hall, and he knows names of kids that are well-behaved, and he knows names of kids that are poorly behaved. And he cares about every single one of them, and he is really great at looking past behavior and at the person.”

Other teachers also spoke to Garrison’s good judgement and temperament.

“He listens well to teachers as well as students,” math teacher Richard Cowles said. “I think he is impeccably fair. He doesn’t let the politics of life interfere with him making sound, consistent decisions. And you can tell that he genuinely likes high schoolers; he wants to see you, he wants to say hi, he wants to have a good relationship with you. He doesn’t see himself as the sultan of the school; he sees himself as someone that works with the school. And I think that’s a very good attribute of of any principal.”

Gregory James
Garrison went without goggles at this years Pink Week pep rally despite years or prior advance preparation before this years pie time. Photo by Gregory James.

Cowles also said that he feels like he can count on Garrison as a friend, not just a boss.

“Another thing that Mr. Garrison does is that when you come in, he’s interested in hearing how you’re doing and having a conversation,” Cowles said. “He doesn’t want to talk school only. I feel comfortable going to him and sharing about when my son has a good game in baseball, [or] my daughter does well in basketball, or different things like that. Whenever we get together, nothing takes 30 seconds. It always takes five minutes, because we talk about our lives. You know he’s a friend, and not all principals are friendly… He has a general concern and affection for all people. And that’s that’s hard to replicate.”

You know he’s a friend, and not all principals are friendly… He has a general concern and affection for all people. And that’s that’s hard to replicate.”

— Teacher Richard Cowles

One of Nelson’s favorite memories of Garrison was when the principal, early on in his tenure,  chased a streaker during the band’s halftime show at House Park.

“He dropped his pants, and he started running through the band, and Mr. Garrison took out after him, and he chased them all the way,” Nelson recalled, laughing. “Mr. Garrison ran straight through; the boy then climbed over a fence, and Mr. Garrison stopped there. After that, the parents would say [to him], ‘Hey Mr. Garrison, you got your tennis shoes on?’”

Adamson said that while she will deeply miss Garrison, she understands his decision to leave, and appreciates the time he has spent as a leader for McCallum.

“This is a job that’s hard,” Adamson said. “It’s getting harder all the time, and you have to get out when you can. I don’t want to see anybody be so old that they can’t enjoy it. He has been the best principal. I’ve worked for several; he’s truly been the best, because he’s allowed us to be our best.”

Garrison reassured the community that he is committed to fully serving out the rest of his days at McCallum, and that even when he leaves, he is not completely abandoning the school.

“My last days are sometime in the summer; I’m still here. I’m all in until the last day,” Garrison said. “Even then, from afar I’ll still be in.”

Dave Winter
Garrison with Taco Shack owner Orlando Arriaga and teaching assistant Georgia Gonzalez high five each other after singing the school song at the Taco Shack pep rally in 2017. Photo by Dave Winter.

Garrison said that the hiring of the next principal is up to the district; he believes that they will consult staff and community members for feedback on what qualities they’d like to see in the next principal, but he does not know whether they will hire somebody immediately or place someone in interim. His advice for the successor?

He has been the best principal. I’ve worked for several; he’s truly been the best, because he’s allowed us to be our best.”

— English teacher and department chair Diana Adamson

“McCallum is very, very unique place; lots of really great students, lots of really dedicated staff. Just make sure that you bring your love and caring attitude to McCallum, the school and the community, because it will be deserving of that,” Garrison said. “And the new principal, whoever it may be, will get the support of everybody here in the community, and hopefully they have a have a good long run like I had here at McCallum.

Ultimately, while it was a difficult choice to leave, Garrison says he feels confident in both his own future and that of McCallum.

“It is just a hard decision,” he said. “I’ll miss it, but it’s time.”

Garrison delivered a message to the Class of 2018 that he has said often: McCallum is family. Photo by Gregory James.


Reports of armed man prompts school to lock down

A brief lock down of the campus during eighth period ended before 4:30 p.m., and students were released at the normal dismissal time. AISD police officers and Mac administrators were investigating a person in the senior parking lot.

A Mac senior told the Shield that the person is a tutor who has picked the senior up from school on numerous occasions before today.

Principal Mike Garrison sent an email to parents and faculty stating that authorities were alerted that students had seen the person walking on the sidewalk with a holster visible. The SRO’s and administrators immediately began to search the campus while classrooms were put on “lockout,” a security process in which people are free to move about inside the building but cannot enter or leave.

The person under scrutiny was not arrested as he had a concealed weapon permit and was on the sidewalk by the street, which is considered public property. That concern led to the lockdown. After police investigated, the man was released, as no criminal offense had occurred.

Protesting for the planet

At McCallum High School, it is not out of the ordinary for the student body to participate in organized walkouts to protest topics they find important. Last year, it was gun control, but this spring, it was climate change. On the Friday before spring break, various high school students from all around Austin walked out of their first periods to meet on the state capital lawn alongside activists, parents and children alike. The event hosted many guest speakers such as candidate Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, who is running for the District 10 seat in the House of Representatives. Dr. Gandhi was the first speaker to address the crowd.

“For a long time, young people like you all have relied on adults like us to take action, to safeguard our air, to safeguard our water, to safeguard our soil,” Ghandi said. “But in many respects, we have failed you.”

The candidate went on to discuss his concerns regarding climate change.

Stella Shenkman
THE GROUP GATHERS: As students arrived to the rally, a group formed on the capital lawn hill, facing their adult activist supporters. “I came here to let my voice be heard.” Sophomore Emmett McCormick told us. “It’s us, and our kids; We are the ones who will have to live through this.”

“We have not done enough,” he said. “Now we know that we must address global warming. We know that we must address it now and within this decade. We know that we are seeing many once-in-a-lifetime events such as hurricanes and natural disasters every other year. We know that the economic impact of climate change will disproportionately affect our communities right here and rural communities right down the road where farming is the major industry.”

Gandhi went on to address the rally organization directly.

“You all know that we have to move forward now,” he said. “We can’t wait for action, and that’s why we are here today.”

Gandhi was followed by many speakers that included students, parents and representatives from 350 Austin, an anti-fossil fuels climate protesting organization. In specific, 350 Austin’s Barbara Fetonte believes that climate change is not only an environmental concern but a political conflict as well.

“I want young people to have as long of a life as possible,” Fetonte said. “Global warming is the key. It causes drought, flooding and fires. With that, you get fires in Syria and civil wars that cause refugees, which causes people to not want to accept refugees at their borders.”

Stella Shenkman
RESPECT YOUR MOTHER: A pair of young protestors display their grattitude to their earth through a shared sign. Students were arriving as early as 8:30 am to the capital lawn. The strike organizers offered the crowd coffee, breakfast snacks, and were playing music on a speaker to welcome activist.

Fetonte feels her frustration with the topic of materialism in conjunction with climate change solutions going ignored.

“It’s not about the money,” she said. “It is about people wanting to be able to just live a good life. We don’t want mansions, we just want to be able to feed our families, to be able to take pride in our world, and to care for each other.”

This wasn’t Fetonte’s first rodeo either. She has been an activist in her community her entire life, even dating back to the Vietnam War protests and Civil Rights movements.

“I have fought for things all of my life,” she said. “But this just seems to be one of the most important. It’s not like we need a ten-bedroom house. I just want a place where I know my family will be safe. I am not asking for a lot.”

Fetonte’s life has been devoted to activism, even in regards to her marriage, according to her husband Danny Fetonte.

“[Barbara] would not go out with me until she saw that I was serious about activism,” Mr. Fetonte said. “It took me sixth months to get a date with her, but now we’ve been married for 40 years.”

Activism played an important role in Fetonte’s life and he is glad to see younger generations continue the fight.

Zoe Hocker
HELPFUL HAPLIN: Activist Richard Haplin poses with his home-made sign demonstrating his climate change concerns. “Let’s get past the crazy,” he said. “Let’s wake up and do something smart with each other to make the world a better place.”

“This is wonderful, seeing high school and college kids stand up,” he said. “My wife and I did it back in the day too. People think that activism doesn’t do anything, but you can change things if you stand up and fight.”

As the topic of climate change grows to be bigger and more urgent, Fetonte hopes that younger generations of activist do not lose hope.

“The people here are perfect examples,” she said. “Don’t become cynical, don’t give up, it’s our planet. The young people have the right to fight as much as anyone, you still have a whole life ahead of you here.”

Danny Fetonte, who also works with 350 Austin, is among the organization protesting corporations who he believes to be destructive to the climate.

“The Fayette Coal Plant is leaking coal lash,” Fetonte said. “The main products of coal lash are lead, mercury, and arsenic.”

Fetonte went on to explain his frustrations with the policy changes that underwent following a new presidency.

Zoe Hocker
SCREAMING SASHA: Junior Sasha Ashton, who attended McCallum her freshman year before transferring to the Khabele School, used her diary when speaking at the rally. “I draft all of my speeches in my diary,” Ashton said. “My time spent writing speeches and journal entries is symbolic to my feelings about the cause.” Ashton is an active member in many rally organizations around Austin. “Something about paper drafting makes me really think about what I am writing,” she said. “The emotional charge of it being my diary certainly helps, too.”

“The Obama administration cited [the Fayette Coal Plant] for having massive piles of coal lash around,” Fetonte said. “Because every time it rains, it leaches into the groundwater. When Trump came in six or eight months later, he got rid of the fines and he got rid of the regulations. I talked to [the Fayette Coal Plant] recently, and they said ‘Well, we are following all of the regulations,’ but there are not even any regulations on monitoring the lead content.”

Mr. Fetonte, among many at the rally, is disappointed in the city of Austin’s participation in this conflict.

“They’re not enforcing that these things are supposed to be sealed,” Fetonte said. “So it does not go down into the ground. The city of Austin makes a third of their budget from that coal plant, and the only reason they’re making so much money is because the coal plant is not dealing with their bi-products in a responsible way.”

Mr. Fetonte feels the health risks that come with chemicals being leaked into drinking water are extremely serious.

“It is literally poisoning kids in the Grange and Bastrop,” he said. “Lead is very deadly. It is bad for adults but it is terrible for kids. It builds up in your brain slowly as you drink the water, and you get a high level of development at that age, but if you have lead in it, it totally messes the brain up.”

Zoe Hocker
YOUNG AND YELLING: As speaker Morgan [last name] shares his story with the crowd, this young activist cheers and shares his quirky sign comparing school homework to the affects of climate change.


Fetonte believes that lack of regulation is no excuse to be unethical with bi-products.

“This country is crazy with making money fast and being irresponsible,” Fetonte said. “Just because Trump got rid of all of the regulations on how to handle coal lash does not mean that City of Austin or the LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority) should go along with it.”

Similar to his wife, Danny Fetonte’s beliefs agree that the money made off of the damage does not compare to the lives of the community members.

“The money should not be a question when you’re dealing with people’s lives, especially children,” he said. “We’re telling LCRA and the city of Austin that no kids lives are worth the money.”

The rally held many participants whose lives were devoted to rallying against climate change, but for activists such as Richard Halpin, climate change has affected his life in a bigger way.

“My father-in-law and mother-in-law were swamped in Houston with the flood of Harvey,” Halpin said. “[My wife and I] had to go down there in the flood and move them out of [Houston] in a wheelchair, then move them into our home where my father-in-law died from results of the flood.”

Halpin has been striking for climate change for over 40 years and believes that results will come from education.

Stella Shenkman
A student leader of the 2019 Climate Strike Rally makes her rounds ensuring that the event is going smoothly. “We cannot afford former years of climate inaction.” she said. “There can be no ‘Bernie or bust’. That means whoever gets on the [DNC] ballot needs to get into office, do not split the ballot.”


“I want to see that the biggest change is more people who are educated to act. “ Halpin said. “I want more people to realize that their lives are at risk, their children’s lives are at risk, and the whole world we live in is at risk. I want them to take the solutions that we have at our fingertips and make them pervasive.”

While the rally held on the state capital lawn was not dense in numbers, their voices rang powerfully, whether it be the students skipping school or the concerned activist.

“It feels like we are all frogs in a pot,” Halpin said. “And the heat it turning up.”

Shield captures 124 Tops in Texas newspaper awards

The Texas Association of Journalism Educators announced on Friday that MacJournalism had won 124 individual awards in the association’s annual Best in Texas contest for newspaper and broadcast journalism.

The contest awarded just under 900 awards certificates, TAJE director Cindy Todd said in an email to association members on Monday. Of those almost 900 winners, the contest judges selected 11 exemplary entries as Best of the Best in Texas winners. Two of those eleven, Kristen Tibbett’s editorial, “We have all been Hood-winked” and Madison Olsen’s news photograph, “They’ve had enough,” were among the Best of the Best winners.

Both MacJournalists will receive a Best of the Best medal. The 124 Best in Texas winners will receive an award certificate.

Print Newspaper Subjective Writing,

Staff Editorial, Kristen Tibbetts

Print Newspaper Photography/Artwork,

News Photo, Madison Olsen

Tops in Texas winners



Infographic Presentation, Sophie Ryland

Headline Writing, Gregory James

Headline Writing, Bella Russo

Caption Writing, Bella Russo

Caption Writing, Gabi Williams

News Story, Jazzabelle Davishines

News Story, Madelynn Niles

In-Depth News/Feature Story, Jazzabelle Davishines and Bella Russo

Sports Game Story, Gregory James

Entertainment Feature, Bela Tapperson

Personal Opinion Column, Emma Baumgardner

News Photo, Gregory James

News Photo, Madison Olsen

Editorial Cartoon, Bella Russo


Infographic Presentation, Sarah Slaten

Headline Writing, Charlie Holden

Headline Writing, Kristen Tibbetts

Caption Writing, Anna Bausman, Olivia Capochiano, Isabella Dietz, Gregory James, Kennedy Weatherby

News Story, Sophie Ryland

News-Feature Story, Emma Baumgardner and Madison Olsen

Feature Story, Sophie Ryland

In-Depth News/Feature Story, Sophie Ryland

In-Depth Package, Sophie Ryland and Gregory James

In-Depth Package, Bella Russo and Jazzabelle Davishines

Sports Game Story, Steven Tibbetts

Staff Editorial, Charlie Holden

Staff Editorial, Kristen Tibbetts

Personal Opinion Column, Diamante Diaz and Olivia Watts

Personal Opinion Column, Stella Shenkman

Personal Opinion Column, Julie Robertson

News Photo, Ian Clennan

News Photo, Lily McCormick

News Photo, Emma Baumgardner and Madison Olsen

News Photo, Madison Olsen

Sports Feature Photo, Ian Clennan

Sports Feature Photo, Anna McClellan

Editorial Cartoon, Bella Russo

Editorial Cartoon, Charlie Holden

Newsmagazine Cover Design, Madison Olsen

News Page Design, Charlie Holden

Photo Essay Page, Staff



News Story, Kristen Tibbetts and Janssen Transier

News Feature Story, Gregory James

In-Depth News/Feature Story, Sophie Ryland

Entertainment Feature, Sophia Shampton

Staff Editorial, Emma Baumgardner

Personal Opinion Column, Olivia Capochiano

News Photo, Madison Olsen

News Photo, Madison Olsen

Sports Action Photo, Annabel Winter

Sports Action Photo, Isaias Cruz

Sports Feature Photo, Gregory James

Photo Portfolio, Bella Russo

Editorial Cartoon, Bella Russo


Infographic Presentation, Sophie Ryland

Infographic Presentation, Charlie Holden

Infographic Presentation, Maddie Doran and Julie Robertson

Infographic Presentation, Sophie Ryland

Infographic Presentation, Sophie Ryland

Alternative Copy, Kelsey Tasch

Alternative Copy Maddie Doran, Julie Robertson

News Story, Jazzabelle Davishines

In-Depth Package, Laszlo King Hovis, Elisha Scott, Gregory James, Janssen Transier

Entertainment Feature Story, Sophie Ryland

Entertainment Feature Story, Gregory James

Staff Editorial, Julie Robertson

Sports Column, Steven Tibbetts

Entertainment Review, Madison Olsen

News Photo, Elisha Scott

News Photo, Bella Russo

Feature Photo, Bella Russo

Sports Action Photo, Bella Russo

Portrait, Bella Russo

Photo Portfolio, Madison Olsen

Photo Portfolio, Bella Russo

Editorial Cartoon, Charlie Holden

Original Artwork, Julie Robertson

Newsmagazine Cover Design, Julie Robertson

Feature Page Design, Mia Terminella

Photo Essay Page, Staff

Photo Essay Page, Staff

Honorable Mention


Multimedia Presentation, Aly Candelas, Madison Olsen, Sophie Ryland

Infographic Presentation, Julie Robertson

Sports Feature Story, Ez Guenther

Sports Feature Story, Kristen Tibbetts

Staff Editorial, Mia Terminella

Personal Opinion Column, Sarah Slaten

Personal Opinion Column, Zoe Hocker

Entertainment Review, Olivia Watts

News Photo, Joseph Cardenas

Feature Photo, Annabel Winter

Feature Photo, Jazzabelle Davishines

Sports Action Photo, Lindsey Plotkin

Sports Action Photo, Gregory James

Sports Feature Photo, Caleb Melville

Sports Feature Photo, Isaias Cruz

Sports Feature Photo, Bella Russo

Portrait, Katie Nalle

Photo Portfolio, Gregory James

Photo Portfolio, Annabel Winter

Original Artwork, Charlie Holden


Nameplate, Folios and Standing Heads, Zoe Hocker, Mia Terminella, Lazlo King-Hovis, Kristen Tibbetts, Kelsey Tasch

Infographic Presentation, Emma Baumgardner

Caption Writing, Bella Russo

Caption Writing, Sarah Slaten, Kristen Tibbetts, Olivia Watts

News Story, Charlie Holden

News-Feature Story, Kristen Tibbetts

In-Depth News/Feature Story, Emma Baumgardner

Sports Game Story, Steven Tibbetts

Sports Feature Story, Bella Russo

Sports Feature Story, Steven Tibbetts

Entertainment Feature Story, Jazzabelle Davishines

Personal Opinion Column, Rylie Jones

Personal Opinion Column, Sarah Slaten

Entertainment Review, Max Rhodes

News Photo, Kelsey Tasch

Sports Action Photo, Charlie Holden

Photo Portfolio, Risa Darlington Horta

Original Artwork, Charlie Holden

Original Artwork, Kelsey Tasch

Original Artwork, Madison Olsen

Editorial/Opinion Page Design, Abigail Salazar

Entertainment Page Design, Mia Terminella

Photo Essay Page, Staff

New law supports zero-waste goal

All Austin business with a permit to sell food are now required to redirect organic waste away from landfills. Businesses now have to provide employees with an outlet to properly dispose
of these leftover organic materials. These compostable materials include soiled paper products, food scraps, cardboard, wax boards, flowers and landscape trimmings.

“We have these materials that we can put in a hole somewhere, or we can actually reuse and re-purpose them,” said Memi Cardenas, senior public information specialist with Austin Resource Recovery. Austin Resource Recovery manages the collection of trash, recycling, yard trimmings and composting material for approximately 200,000 local customers.

This requirement was set by the Universal Recycling Ordinance Diversion in support of Austin’s zero waste goal. The Austin City Council adopted the URO-approved the Austin Recovery Master Plan “to ensure that multifamily and commercial properties had access to recycling services,” said Jacob McCombs, a senior planter with Austin Resource Recovery. The URO and Austin recovery master plan set the stage for the department’s programs and services. The aim of the plan is to reach the zero waste goal by 2040. This means keeping at least 90 percent of rejected materials out of the landfill. The master plan outlines milestones and steps, such as the requirement of composting, to ensure that their goal is achieved.

Composting trucks line the parking lot at Austin Resource Recovery. The company redirects consumer compostable waste to a local family fertilizing business. Photo by Mia Terminella.

The new redirection options regarding businesses are donating food to shelters, sending scraps to local farms and establishing on-site composting. Businesses are able hire haulers to pick up food waste, but the cost to employ the companies can be prohibitive. Recently the cost to haul compost has gone down, however, due to there being less trash and therefore less cost to remove it.

Experts say that donating food can be difficult in practice.

“Although donating prepared food could help the city’s food-insecure population [those who do not have reliable access to food] dealing with prepared food from restaurants could create other challenges” said Tyler Markham, agency retail specialist for the Central Texas Food Bank.

Redistributing food to other organizations is challenging due to ensuring it is packaged and labeled accurately. Markham said it is easier to go directly to one of the organization’s partners. Businesses are also able to donate food scraps to area farms or compost food waste and paper products themselves.

Austin is in the process of rolling out its new residential curbside composting program, which as of now is available to 90,000 residents, but will be available to all by 2020. The city provides Austin Resource Recovery customers with a green cart for food waste, food-soiled products and yard trimmings. The material is then taken away and processed by Organics by Gosh, a local family fertilizing business who composts the material and sells it locally.

The compost bin at The Natural Gardener, where customers can buy fertilizer made from compost. Photo by Mia Terminella

Compost is classified as decomposed organic material that provides essential nutrients for plant growth. It can be used as fertilizer, and it can be used to improve soil structure to ensure that the soil can hold a correct amount of moisture, nutrients and air. There are many local Austin businesses that allow residents to buy/sell compost. The Natural Gardener in South Austin is an organic plant nursery and garden that makes and sells its own compost. Compost Pedallers is another local business that is a 100-percent bike-powered recycling program. The Compost Pedallers collect compost from a wide range of homes and businesses and delivers them to gardens around the community and different urban farms.

Austin’s large number of farm-to-table restaurants, farmers’ markets and food trucks report having some success in meeting the new requirements.

Bryce Gilmore who owns Barley Swine, Sour Duck Market and Odd Duck said that “cutting down on landfill and waste through composting and recycling has been a large part of his mission.”

Composting rates continue to rise as local businesses and residents become aware of the benefits to composting and the different ways can be involved.

The URO says that “understanding how to make and use compost is in the public interest, as the problem of waste disposal continues to grow.”

Shield repeats as national Blue and Gold champion

For the second straight year, MacJournalism has won the Blue and Gold Award for Staff Excellence in the Quill and Scroll International Writing, Photo and Multimedia Contest.

The Blue and Gold Award for Staff Excellence honors high school newsrooms for overall excellence in product. It is the highest Blue and Gold Award a staff can receive.”

The Blue and Gold Award for Staff Excellence honors high school newsrooms for overall excellence in product. It is the highest Blue and Gold Award a staff can receive.

In order to win the award, McCallum journalists captured four of the 30 Sweepstakes (or First Place) awards and a total of 23 first, second, third or honorable mention awards in the 2019 competition.

Students from five countries submitted 2,486 entries over all 30 categories, and judges chose 268 winning entries produced by 319 students, or National Winners. Every winning entry earns a Quill and Scroll Gold Key.

Quill and Scroll honors Sweepstakes Winners (First Place) in every category with a special framed certificate. All National Winners (Sweepstakes, Second Place, Third Place and Honorable Mention) receive award letters and are eligible to apply for Quill and Scroll Scholarships, which have an application deadline of May 10.

MacJournalism also won the Blue and Gold Award for Staff Excellence in 2018.

Schools with the most winning entries receive Blue and Gold Awards for Writing, Visual and Overall Excellence.

Here are those winning schools:

Staff Excellence

McCallum High School, Austin, Texas

Visual Excellence

First Place: McCallum High School, Austin, Texas
Second Place: Shawnee Mission East High School, Prairie Village, Kan.
Third Place: Johnston High School, Johnston, Iowa (Tie) and Carmel High School, Carmel, Ind. (Tie)

Writing Excellence

First Place: McCallum High School, Austin, Texas
Second Place: St. John’s School, Houston, Texas
Third Place: Cedar Park High School, Cedar Park, Texas

Quill and Scroll released a slide show of all the winning entries (with judge’s commentary), which you can view by clicking this link.

To complete list of McCallum winners with links to their winning entries is included below.

Sweepstakes (First-Place) Winners

Category 6: In-Depth Individual Reporting

Sophie Ryland, “AISD: A segregated district, then and now.

Category 8: Sports Writing

Gregory James, “A blessing in disguise.

Category 17: Photo Slideshow

Maeve Walsh, “A broken home. A broken family. A broken heart.

Category 25: Informational Graphic

Charlie Holden, “What is suspicious?

Second-Place Winners

Category 1: Editorial Writing

Kristen Tibbetts, “We have all been Hood-winked.

Category 4: Opinion Writing

Emma Baumgardner, “Not a reading rainbow.

Category 16: Photo Illustration

Julie Robertson, “Under Fire.

Third-Place Winners

Category 12: Blogging

Max Rhodes, “Rhodes Traveled.

Category 17: Photo Slideshow

Pearl Heinley, “Nau’s the time to remember the past.

Pearl Heinley
A view from table 13 shows the colorful scramble and order-in-chaos that comes with 60, going on 70, years of experience. With the current owner, Mr. Lambert Labay’s old age, the responsibilities and maintenance are starting to fall more and more heavily on Laura’s shoulders. “We’re having to tear down our family home after many many years, which has been, you know, a very destructive force for the pharmacy,” she said about the West Lynn property, a landmark for the neighborhood, “It’s a little bittersweet this Christmas you know having my dad been sick last Christmas Eve. It’s just a precious time to have everyone together So the best gift right now would be the gift of health.”

Honorable Mention Winners

Category 2: News Writing

Kelsey Tasch, “Stretched too thin.

Graphic by Charlie Holden.

Category 4: Personal Opinion Column

Sophie Ryland, “‘We regret to inform you…’”

Category 8: Sports Writing

Julie Robertson, “Taylor takes Pflugerville job, calling it ‘a leap of faith.’”

Category 9: Profile Writing

Bella Russo, “The adventures continue for Zulmy Galindo.”

Lucy Marco, “Mr. Whiz to retire after 49 years of teaching.

Janssen Transier, “Lifeguarding legend has Mac roots.

Category 10: Political Writing

Gregory James, “For these three Knights, cost of government shutdown hits close to home.

Emma Baumgardner, “The struggle to legislate gun safety.”

Crockett students Najai Mckenzie Robinson and Robert Spong drop to their knees at Wooldridge Park raising their arms and screaming, “Don’t Shoot!” before marching to the Capitol at the National Student Walkout to protest gun violence on April 20. To read more about student walkout in Austin, please see page 14. Photo by Madison Olsen.

Category 13: News Feature Photography

Madison Olsen, “They’ve had enough.
Madison Olsen, “Molly Gardner walks out with her peers.
on Olsen, “MSD High senior Jack Haimowitz at #marchforourlives at Texas Capitol.

Caleb Melville
Coach G got a Gatorade shower following the Knights decisive win over Crockett in a game that all but punched the Knights’ ticket to the playoffs. Photo by Caleb Melville..

Category 15: Sports Reaction Photography

Caleb Melville, “Coach G got a Gatorade shower.

Category 16: Photo Illustration

Charlie Holden, “’We regret to inform you. …‘”

Category 25: Informational Graphic

Maddie Doran and Julie Robertson, “Parting remarks.

Madison Olsen
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High senior Jack Haimowitz shares an embrace after his emotional speech at today’s #marchforourlives at the Texas Capitol in downtown Austin. Haimowitz spoke of the awful Feb. 14 shooting on his campus. “What took place on Valentine’s Day not only stripped the students of Douglas of their innocence, but it brutally ripped 17 lives from their homes.” He also spoke of the resolve he and his classmates and have found since the shooting. “We are the change we never knew we needed, and we have found the strength that we never knew we were looking for. … Every day I see people not only wishing for change but refusing to accept anything else.” He also pleaded with the audience for unity. “If we ever wish to fully overcome the hatred and fear of a scale such as this, we must unite as Americans regardless of the societal, racial and physical constructs put in place to hinder our unification.” Photo by Madison Olsen.

SIPA awards MacJournalism 20 Best Writing honors

The staffs of the Knight and the Shield together captured 20 individual awards in the Southern Interscholastic Press Association’s 2018 Best Writing Contest. They were announced yesterday at SIPA’s National High School Journalism Convention at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

Shield co-editor-in-chief Sophie Ryland attained four awards including first-place awards for print feature story, print news story and online investigative story, plus third place in online features.

“It’s always nice to receive recognition for our work, considering the hours and careful thought we try to put into it,” Ryland said. “It’s definitely a good feeling to have that validated, but overall I’m just proud of the staff for consistently producing really quality stuff that is award-caliber.”

Steven Tibbetts, co-editor in chief of the Shield Online, won third place for print sports column, and assistant editor Kelsey Tasch won two third-place awards in online investigative story and yearbook community copy. Shield staff member Olivia Watts also captured two awards, a second place for staff editorial and a first place in yearbook community copy that she shared with 2018 yearbook design editor Grace Brady.

In addition to that first place award, the Knight won first place in three other categories: groups copy, student life copy and news cutline.

The complete list of McCallum winners with links to their award-winning work is below.


Staff Editorial

Second Place – Olivia Watts, The Shield, McCallum HS

Feature Story

First Place – Sophie Ryland, The Shield, McCallum HS
Judge’s comments: “It’s not a “sexy” topic, but this piece on Community College is so well-written and researched. The story is personal with excellent quotes and yet informative with expert sources and national stats to give the big picture. With rising costs of college, this story is a real service to readers. This journalist knows how to do the legwork, pack a story with valuable information, and also how to tell a story – not just write an article – which is tricky sometimes with a topical feature. Nice job on AP style as well. It’s this attention to detail and a feel for how to grab a reader and make them care about the topic that sets this story apart. Very professional.”

News Feature

First Place – Madison Olsen, The Shield, McCallum HS
Judge’s comments: A wide variety of student perspectives and personal connections to the issue make this story stand out.

News Story

First Place – Sophie Ryland, The Shield, McCallum HS

Sports Column

First Place – Julie Robertson, The Shield, McCallum HS
Judge’s comments: You do a nice job here of diving into a complicated issue with a great scene-setter style of lede that explains WHY what you are about to argue about is so important. Great job!

Third Place – Steven Tibbetts, The Shield, McCallum HS


Alternative Storytelling

Second Place – Charlie Holden, The Shield online, McCallum HS


Third Place – Sophie Ryland, The Shield online, McCallum HS

Investigative Story

First Place – Sophie Ryland, The Shield online, McCallum HS

Third Place – Kelsey Tasch, The Shield online, McCallum HS

Personality Feature

First Place – Bella Russo, The Shield online, McCallum HS


First Place – Julie Robertson, The Shield online, McCallum HS
Judge’s comments: “This is a wonderfully detailed story with tons of quotes that let people tell the story about the coaching change.”

Photo Cutlines

News Cutline

First Place – Madison Olsen, The Knight, McCallum HS


Ads/Community Copy

First Place – Grace Brady and Olivia Watts, The Knight, McCallum HS

Third Place – Kelsey Tasch, The Knight, McCallum HS

Groups Copy

First Place – Georgia Boutot and Celeste Montes de Oca, The Knight, McCallum HS

Second Place – Ella Irwin and Abby Robison, The Knight, McCallum HS

Student Life Copy

First Place – Delaney Carter and Audrey Sayer, The Knight, McCallum HS

Third Place – Ella Jane Larrimer and Karel Tinkler, The Knight, McCallum HS

Theme Copy

Second Place – Elena Henderson Kennedy Schuelke and Madison Olsen, The Knight, McCallum HS

Will Texas legislature take action?

Starting Jan. 8, the 86th biannual Texas Legislature began the 180 days of determining new Texas policies. This legislative year is supposed to be a year of progression and due to the new makeup of the House and Senate, Texans are eager to see what will happen next.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Republicans have been in control in recent years, but Patrick now must negotiate with Democrats in ways he has not before this year. The reason why?

If the Democratic state senators remain united, one Republican defector can block legislation and return the legislature to bipartisan negotiations, involving the cooperation of two parties, instead of hyperpartisan, being extremely biased towards a single political party.

$2.3 billion has been proposed for property tax relief if lawmakers agree to pass reform to decrease dependence on the so-called ‘Robin Hood’ system.”

The most probable Republican swing vote is that of senator Kel Seliger: the last old school moderate Republican who’s butted heads with Dan Patrick in the past. The last time was when Patrick strongly pushed an anti-transgender bill that caused a divide within his party.

No matter the numbers, Democrats and Republicans alike are all considering legislation seeking to bettering the school system in Texas as well as advancing bills dealing with disaster recovery, marijuana legalization and abortion.

Recapture is the collecting of school taxes from property-tax rich districts and redistributing them to property-tax poor districts. Though it seems to be a fair solution on paper, in practice, Robin Hood laws siphon money out of Austin because the property values in Austin have increased, causing the Austin school district to pay out more money and receive reduced school funds in return. Recently there has been talk of increasing property taxes and lowering school taxes so fewer revenues will be caught up by the recapture provision. $2.3 billion has been proposed for property tax relief if lawmakers agree to pass reform to decrease dependence on the so-called “Robin Hood” system. Unfortunately, the decrease in school funds has affected more than just the lives of students.

Teacher’s salaries have also taken a hit, and paired with property taxes increasing, teachers are finding it more difficult to even find affordable housing.  The House’s top priority is school finance, but the question is how much of the $7 billion House education bill will be devoted to teacher raises? The Senate is offering $3.7 billion in teacher pay, enough to raise salaries by $5,000 per year.

School safety has also become more of a concern as only within the first five months of 2018, there were 16 school shootings, and Texans want to end that trend immediately. ”It’s a terrible thing to think about, the idea that our lives could be at risk in such a place like school,” senior Isabella Hernandez said.

Gov. Greg Abbott released a 43-page school safety plan after the Santa Fe shooting that took place May 18. The proposal considers a wide range of solutions from addressing mental health, to possibly adopting the “red flag” law. The “red flag” law will allow the seizure or surrender of firearms by those deemed an imminent threat by a judge.

While not all McCallum students would agree with Abbott’s proposals, may do feel that the government must take some action to make schools safer.”

There is also the possible state program to arm teachers to be trained by the Texas Commission of Law Enforcement. The governor has proposed streamlining the 80-hour training course and lifting the rule that teachers have to keep firearms under lock and key.

While not all McCallum students would agree with Abbott’s proposals, may do feel that the government must take some action to make schools safer, especially in light of the recent scare over alleged terrorist threats to the McCallum campus.

“This is another wakeup call among many for our local government and beyond to enforce more common sense gun laws and restrictions,” Hernandez said.

Due to the damages left by Harvey, the city of Houston has hired the HillCo lobbying firm to appeal to the Texas Legislature for disaster recovery relief. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner openly stated that his top priority is getting disaster relief funding this session, and he hopes that lawmakers tap into the rainy day fund to provide it.

With the bordering Texas states all having legalized the medical use of marijuana, Texas has been put under pressure to follow suit. ”

“Though neighbors and the community really helped out, it doesn’t feel like the state aided its people in any way,” Houstonite James Puckett said.

A few years ago the Compassionate Use Act was signed, allowing for the use of a specific type of cannabis oil for those with epilepsy, but not all who suffer qualify. This year, there may be a significant leap this year in the Texas Legislature.

“Though I don’t agree with full legalization, because I personally find the benefits of CBD oil to be enough for me, the punishments for a small amount of marijuana are far too elaborate,” said one parent who wished to remain anonymous.

With the bordering Texas states all having legalized the medical use of marijuana, Texas has been put under pressure to follow suit. A couple of bills up for debate this year are the legalization of medical marijuana and the decriminalization for anything less than a gram. More specifically, the bill aims to lower the punishment from a class B misdemeanor and up to six months in jail time, to a civil offense with up to a $250 fine.

Finally, two anti-abortions bills passed this month to prevent doctors from encouraging abortions and cease “dismemberment abortions.” The “wrongful births” bills does not give women the right to sue doctors if their child is born with a birth defect so doctors will be less inclined to recommend aborting the baby. Senior Zoe Tormollen said that issue seemed fairly straightforward to her. ”It seems corrupt not to allow doctors to be sued if there was misconduct.”

Texans are eager to see what the legislation will bring us this session. With the new composition of the House and Senate in terms of political parties. The topics of this year are important, but the bills are also incredibly specific in what exactly they address. The Texas legislative session ends May 27, and until then the future of our state on a variety of important policy issues remains uncertain.

Task force issues final budget report

The Austin ISD budget has been a topic of discussion and debate for several months. On Jan. 7, the Budget Stabilization Task Force, created to address a $30 million deficit, released their recommendations for balancing the budget.

A large portion of the recommendations that were made focused on lowering transportation costs in the district. Magnet programs and similar organizations were examined in particular because of their currently high transportation costs. Because magnet programs supply citywide bus transportation and especially because CapMetro provides free transportation for students, the task force recommended eliminating magnet transportation costs and establishing magnet-quality classes at schools throughout the district.

It’s great that people are so passionate about this. We really want to listen to people’s voices.”

— McCallum senior and member of the Budget Stabilization Task Force Sophie Ryland.

Another cost-saving recommendations was to eliminate the high school sharing model. The high school sharing model is a program in which students have the ability to attend classes not offered at the school in which they are enrolled by traveling to other campuses that offer the course of their interest.

“[Course sharing has] made [school] really interesting,” said senior Sutton Ballard, who attends the LBJ Fire Academy. “I’ve gotten to know people at LASA, LBJ, Lanier and Austin High all through student sharing.”

Transportation costs are high for the program; students often drive themselves between campuses, but many students in the program are unable to do so and have relied on busing.
“Firefighting is a two-year program,” Ballard said, “so it would definitely affect juniors to not have buses.”

Participants say the high school-sharing model, though not a priority in the eyes of the district, has had positive effects on many students and provided them with opportunities they would have otherwise enjoyed.

“Not every school is able to offer every single class,” Ballard said. “McCallum doesn’t seem to have a lot of career-oriented classes whereas some of the student-share classes, like firefighting and veterinary science, are setting you up for a great career.”

McCallum doesn’t seem to have a lot of career-oriented classes whereas some of the student-share classes, like firefighting and veterinary science, are setting you up for a great career.”

— senior Sutton Ballard

The elimination of free transportation for schools with magnet programs is another major facet being discussed. Magnet programs require students to submit an application in order to be accepted into a school other than the school they are zoned to attend. Since magnet programs enroll students from all over Austin, the cost of transportation to and from these schools is significantly higher than other schools in the district. McCallum is a choice program (not a magnet program), so it would be unaffected by this proposed change.

Another measure being taken to fix the issues with the district budget are the consolidation of campuses with low enrollment, specifically those with enrollment lower than 60 percent of capacity. Many community members have taken issue with this proposal due to emotional attachments and personal histories with certain campuses.

“It’s difficult because people care so strongly,” said senior Sophie Ryland, the only student member of the Budget Stabilization Task Force. “We have people coming and talking to us, really upset, because these campuses matter a lot to them.”

Other proposals include redrawing school boundaries, eliminating tax exemptions for historical properties and implementing a program to reduce teacher turnover.

Though the district is forced to make difficult decisions regarding the budget, the BTSF says the voice of the community is still important to the process. There were town hall meetings regarding the budget at Travis and Reagan this week. A third such meeting will take place 11 a.m. Saturday at Austin High.

“It’s also great that people are so passionate about this,” said Ryland. “We really want to listen to people’s voices.”

Fulmore MS embraces Lively change

The AISD Board of Trustees voted on Dec. 17 to rename the Fulmore Middle School campus due to the Confederate ties of its namesake. The district has been going through the process of renaming several campuses named after historical figures connected to the Confederacy. Several other campuses, including Lanier and Reagan high school are slated to be renamed soon.

Fulmore Middle School was named for Zachary Taylor Fulmore, a lawyer and judge from North Carolina. Fulmore was a judge in Travis County for many years, as well as a trustee for the Texas School for the Blind. Fulmore, however, was also a private in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

“I’m glad that the district is recognizing that we need to change things.”

— Former Fulmore student and McCallum senior Persephone Harris

The naming of buildings and organizations in honor of historical figures who were in support of the Confederacy or held otherwise racist beliefs and opinions has been a source debate for several years. Fulmore was in the Confederate Army at a very young age, but later did a great deal of good for his community. Some say that history should not be erased; others argue that the preservation of history is possible without honoring and condoning racist actions.

“I think preserving history is important in facilities that are meant for it, like museums or exhibitions,” said former Fulmore student and current McCallum senior Ardis Warrenfells. “But if the names of figures are proudly displayed in the names of our schools, it should be renamed so we can promote better people.”

Many students and other members of the community are positive about this change, viewing it as a step forward.

“I’m glad that the district is recognizing that we need to change things,” said Persephone Harris, another Fulmore graduate and McCallum senior. “I think this will help represent our district as a progressive environment.”

The metal letterings outside of the front entrance of Fulmore Middle School are just one of the pieces of this school that will change with its namesake. Photo by Jazzabelle Davishines.

The public recognition of historical figures who supported the Confederacy is a controversial topic, largely due to people’s strong opinions regarding what it represents in the present day.

“I don’t believe in honoring a legacy of racism, so I support the name change,” said Cindy St. John, an English teacher at Fulmore. “I realize this is controversial because name changes are expensive and we already have inequities in our schools that need to be financially addressed, but those deficits need to be amended at the state level, and that’s another issue.”

Though on the surface this may appear to be a black-and-white issue, St. John would disagree with that assessment. Despite her support for the change, she acknowledges that the decision is a complicated one.

“Honestly, the decision to change the name of a school is complex,” St. John said. “I would have liked to have had a public conversation about Zachary Taylor Fulmore’s moral legacy, with emphasis on listening to our communities of color and respecting their voices.”

There are complications and concerns to be addressed, as there are with any significant change. “As an English teacher, I believe in the power of words and the power of naming things,” St. John said. “Changing the name of our school does not erase its history; Fulmore will always be Fulmore and the name change marks a moment in its history, one of which I think we can be proud.”

St. John is optimistic about how the change will affect the campus community.

“More than anything,” St. John said, “I hope that these name changes are just the beginning and that we can have meaningful conversations about our shared histories, values and ideas about equity.”

I would have liked to have had a public conversation about Zachary Taylor Fulmore’s moral legacy, with emphasis on listening to our communities of color and respecting their voices.”

— Fulmore language arts teacher Cindy St. John

The renaming of Fulmore was obviously a very difficult decision. Task forces at Reagan and Lanier asked that the district delete the first name of the namesakes and leave the last names intact. The district has rejected that solution.

In the case of Fulmore, the board finally came to a decision on Dec. 17. At the urging of the Fulmore community, they approved a change to rename the school after one of its former teachers, Sarah Lively. Lively was a staff member at the school for 25 years. Additionally, she continued to volunteer for the school for another 27 years after her teaching career came to a close. Her dedication to the school, long after her time working there, earned her a place in the school’s memory forever.

UPDATE: The Board of Trustees voted Monday to change the name of John H. Reagan Early College High School to Northeast Early College High School. John H. Reagan was the postmaster general of the Confederate States of America. A committee of community members had proposed last fall just to drop the “John H.” from the name, but that proposal was rejected prompting Monday’s vote.

KUT quoted LaTisha Anderson, the Trustee who represents the area that contains the schools, as supporting the new school name without a namesake.

“I wanted to celebrate the community,” she said. “I don’t want this to be about a name on the building. I’m interested in what’s happening in the building.”

Texas first in uninsured children

Ian Clennan
Rose Dotson’s family is insured now but for about nine months, they were without insurance making necessary medicine expensive until they could no longer afford it all. Photo by Ian Clennan.

Last December, both of junior Rose Dotson’s parents lost their jobs, and with them, their family’s health insurance. It became a serious issue when her brother appeared to have walking pneumonia, costing them hundreds of dollars, and later when they could no longer afford their daily medications.

“Everyone in my family is on medication, and I take about four different medications from anxiety to headaches to Accutane, and one time we went to pick up one medication, and it was $600 for a one-month prescription,” she said. “And that’s when my family was like, ‘Yeah, we can’t pay for this.’ So none of us had any of our medications for that six-month timespan. And my brother [needed medication], and he didn’t have [it] when school started.”

Her parents tried to hide the severity of the situation from her, but she soon realized just how much of a financial impact a lack of coverage meant.

“I think my parents tried to shelter me from it at first for a little bit; it wasn’t until we started being really frugal with money that I was seeing that medical insurance is very important for everyone,” she said. “At first I was just kind of like, ‘Oh, it’s just whenever you need it; It’s not that expensive.’ But we learned that we couldn’t pay out-of-pocket, and it was a really eye-opening experience. Despite my parents trying to hide things from me and comforting me, saying that I shouldn’t be worried, it’s something to worry about. We were pretty much living off savings, and we couldn’t be dumping our savings into medication when we had a mortgage and car payments and everything else.

Her story is by no means rare; Texas is, according to a study by Georgetown University, ranked first in the country for rate of children without health insurance. Researchers found that 10.7 percent, or 835,000, children were uninsured, going up from 9.8 percent in 2016. The study also concluded that one in five uninsured children in America live in Texas.

“[Lack of insurance] makes it harder for children to get timely care, whether it’s vaccines to stay healthy, help for strep throat, detection and treatment of cancer before it spreads, eyeglasses to see better in the classroom, or therapy for a developmental delay or disability,” Peter Clark, communications director for Texans Care for Children, said.

This trend was not confined to the state level; legislative attempts to retrench public health programs, spearheaded by the GOP, led to 300,000 more uninsured children in America, a 0.3 percent increase over the course of one year.

“There are a number of reasons [Republicans oppose health care expansion]: resistance to spending money, opposition to policies that are associated with President Obama, an ideology that expects people to solve their problems on their own, and historically an opposition to public assistance programs in parts of the country where people of color are seen as significant beneficiaries of those programs,” Clark said.

Made with Visme Presentation Maker

Policy experts say that more people became insured with the enactment of the Affordable Care Act and the streamlining of the enrollment process for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, but recent efforts to scale back the scope of those programs have reversed that trend.

“The ACA and CHIP have certainly made a big change in Texas, reducing the uninsured from roughly 27 percent to roughly 17 percent,” Warner said. “Medicaid expansion would be an excellent initiative alone and help cover a large number of adults. Being more proactive in reducing barriers and outreach would help as well.”

Clark agrees the Medicaid expansion would greatly reduce uninsured rates.

“State leaders have not made health coverage a priority,” Clark said. “The biggest thing that state leaders should do is to accept Medicaid expansion funding to cover low-income adults, many of whom currently have no affordable insurance options.”

This issue has socioeconomic nuances; black, Hispanic and immigrant children are disproportionately more likely to be uninsured, and low-income families make up the majority of those who lack coverage.

“If children are in families with one or more adults who are recent immigrants, even though the kids may be citizens, the parents may be leery of signing them up for fear of exposing their situation or even threatening their green card status for fear of being identified as a public charge,” said David Warner, professor of health policy at UT Austin.

One solution would be to increase awareness of how the process to qualify for and enroll in government-provided health care works; many families that qualify simply don’t know how to sign up, or even that they’re eligible in the first place. According to the study, the Trump administration has cut navigators that guided people to sign up for public service, funding for marketing and outreach and reduced the open enrollment period in 2018 from three months to six weeks. More than half of uninsured children are eligible for programs in which they are not enrolled.

“We need to put greater effort into outreach and enrollment efforts, including efforts that focus on reaching out to [socioeconomically-disadvantaged] communities,” Clark said. “There are a number of limitations on immigrants’ access to Medicaid and other health insurance programs.”

Texan Republicans have said that they are dubious about the quality of Medicaid-provided health care and the promise from the federal government to reimburse 90 percent of any expansion of the program. Texas is one of 17 states that have opted out of Medicaid expansion. The Shield reached out to all of the Republican state representatives on the Texas House Public Health Committee; none responded to a request for comment.

While I am ever hopeful that this issue will be tackled this session, unfortunately the politics tied to it have gotten in the way of the help we can provide to those Texans who desperately need it.”

— Senator Kirk Watson

“When the Affordable Care Act went into effect, we saw the uninsured rate in Texas decline,” Texas Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said. “We can see further declines in the uninsured rate if Texas expands Medicaid, just like what has happened in the other 37 states (including D.C.). Such an action will have a significant impact on lower-income Texans, a group which is too heavily comprised of minority and immigrant communities.”

The Urban Institute released a report claiming that if Texas either chose to expand Medicaid or found another way to provide insurance for low-income families, then 1.2 million citizens would become eligible for free or reduced health coverage.

“While I am ever hopeful that this issue will be tackled this session, unfortunately the politics tied to it have gotten in the way of the help we can provide to those Texans who desperately need it,” Watson said.

In this year’s state legislative session, state Attorney General Ken Paxton has expressed his intent to reduce the effects of the ACA at the state level. However, multiple state representatives have proposed the Children’s Coverage Bill, which would allow children enrolled in Medicaid to only need to renew every year and would reach out to families eligible for Medicaid and CHIP but are not enrolled.

In a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 64 percent of Texans said they supported accepting expanded funding for Medicaid at the state level, and 79 percent said they believed that “[e]xpanding Medicaid to cover more low-income Texans” is either “a top priority” or “important.”

Dotson’s family remained uninsured until both parents found a new job last September. She said that the experience changed the way she perceived the political discussion surrounding healthcare.

“I definitely was kind of skeptical of universal health care for everyone, that kind of ideal, but now I definitely do think that is something very important. … You know, it is something that everyone needs,” Dotson said. “[Increased] taxes will always be argued against and argued for. But I definitely think it is something worth sticking up for.”

Reported threats stoke fear, absenteeism

Fear took the place of love on Valentine’s Day at McCallum.

Two days earlier, on the night of Feb. 12, the Austin Police Department was informed of a terroristic threat made by a McCallum student directed towards the McCallum campus. When APD got to the student’s house, he was gone. The police were eventually able to find the student the next morning after the he returned to his home.

“That student had made a comment that he was going to shoot up McCallum, and he said he had access to a gun, according to the information I received,” McCallum principal Michael Garrison said. “APD was called, and by the time APD got [to his home] the student was gone, so the big concern was that they couldn’t locate him from that point, which was about 11 p.m. They found him at home at about 7:30 in the morning. They did arrest, transport and charge him with making a terroristic threat.”

There were other threats that were posted, and one of the threats said something along the lines of: a friend of the student who got arrested is going to come to McCallum and shoot up McCallum.”

— principal Michael Garrison

School went on as normal for the most part on Feb. 13, the day the student was arrested, except for zero-hour classes that took place before first period. Students who showed up for Angie Seckar-Martinez and Scott Pass’s zero-hour Calculus BC class, which starts at 7:30 a.m., were escorted into the cafeteria, where they stayed until the student had been arrested. The students were later allowed to go to their class at about 7:50 a.m.

That afternoon, Garrison sent McCallum parents and staff an email informing them of the previous night’s threat, but as soon as the first threat seemed resolved, rumors of multiple new threats began showing up on social media.

“There were other threats that were posted, and one of the threats said something along the lines of: a friend of the student who got arrested is going to come to McCallum and shoot up McCallum,” Garrison said. “It wasn’t the friend; it was some other third party that posted that. And then another post said something is going to happen at lunch time. That post has nothing to do with the situation that originated on Wednesday. That was a text that administration had been informed about several days before, and we were investigating it. So this post created new hype about McCallum not being safe.”

That night, Garrison sent another email to parents and staff informing them of the additional threats that had been made to McCallum over social media.

“At this time, there is no danger to our campus, staff or students,” the email said. “Out of an abundance of caution, however, we will have additional AISD police officers on campus tomorrow morning.”

Other than the extra police officers and many absent students, school proceeded normally on Thursday, Feb. 14 despite the rumored threats.

“The canceling of school is always a district decision, and based on the information they had from the investigation, they didn’t feel like there was a need to cancel school,” Garrison said.
Although it was not Garrison’s decision whether or not to cancel school, he backed up the decision made by the district.

The hallways of McCallum were largely empty on Valentine’s Day after the spread of the previous day’s threats on social media. Photo by David Winter.

“[The AISD Police Department] doesn’t take threats lightly; they investigate them thoroughly,” Garrison said. “We take all the precautions necessary to keep our staff and students here safe at McCallum.”

Garrison believes that the absence of many students from campus on Feb. 14 was in large part caused by the spread of false or irrelevant information on social media.

“There are a lot of times on social media [when] people try to jump on what’s going on and try to add information that is not relevant to a situation or not true altogether,” Garrison said. “The fact that people put stuff out on social media to try to hype up or exacerbate situations created a lot of worry throughout our school.”

Garrison also understands the worries that parents and students had because of the threats.

“I personally understand that parents are going to be concerned, that students are going to be concerned, and they should be,” Garrison said. “I completely understand that parents and students are going to be alarmed and concerned and afraid and anxious. Those are all very natural reactions given the state of things that occur in our nation. I am glad that a lot of our students and parents felt safe enough and trust the district and McCallum enough that they came back to school [on Feb. 14].”

The fact that people put stuff out on social media to try to hype up or exacerbate situations created a lot of worry throughout our school.”

— principal Mike Garrison

During fourth period Feb. 14, Garrison came on the intercom to talk to the students and faculty at McCallum about the situation.

“Walking around during the day, I felt like students were really looking for some comfort and reassurance from the adults that everything was OK,” Garrison said. “I did drop into a few classes and talked with a few students, and I noticed how they all came and gathered around while one of the other administrators and I were in a class, and they had questions. … I wanted to reassure them and give them as much true information as I could to help them understand that we’re doing everything we can, and AISD Police and Central Office are doing everything they can to make sure that McCallum is safe for staff and students.”

Garrison was not the only adult at McCallum trying to help students with the difficult situation. English teacher Dana Olson put together a PowerPoint with information from the Department of Homeland Security to try to prepare students in case an active shooter ever did come on campus. Olson says that she put the PowerPoint together in part because she feels that McCallum would not be prepared enough in the case of an active shooter, citing the fact that McCallum does all their drills during one period.

“The only training that we get at McCallum are these lockdown drills, which we only do every once in a while during first period, but the chances of something happening during your first period is one in eight,” Olson said.

Olson also feels like the lockdown drills alone are not enough to prepare students and staff for an active shooter situation.

Department of Homeland Security put together a brochure, and so I just copied and pasted the information from the brochure into a PowerPoint. Then, both yesterday and today, I’m asking my students if this is something they’re interested in going over, and if they are, then great.”

— English teacher Dana Olson

“I felt like I didn’t have any solutions [for certain problems], and I don’t have any training,” Olson said. “So what do I do in an emergency situation, because, honestly, locking the door, that’s not really going to do much, especially in [my] classroom. In most classrooms at McCallum we have a wall of windows, and so even in the lockdown drill, where are we even supposed to go to hide? We’re seen everywhere.”

So Olson decided to go out and try to find some answers to her questions.

“I was like, ‘I’m sure this information’s on Google’,” Olson said. “So, I Googled it: ‘What do you need to know if there’s an active shooter?’. Department of Homeland Security put together a brochure, and so I just copied and pasted the information from the brochure into a PowerPoint. Then, both yesterday and today, I’m asking my students if this is something they’re interested in going over, and if they are, then great.”

Olson says that she feels like her students have appreciated her efforts to help prepare them for an active shooter.

“So far the response has been really positive, and it made me feel better, and that’s why I’m giving this as an option, because now I feel like the students have a plan, and at the very least they have a plan for this class,” Olson said. “It made me feel better, and I think it’s making them feel safer and making them think a little more actively about what would we do if there is an emergency. Where would we go? What should we be doing?”

Olson also believes that lockdowns themselves are not always the best course of action during an active shooter situation.

“A lockdown is actually the second line of defense when there’s an active shooter, not the first,” Olson said. “That’s what we’re trained to do, is to just lockdown. But I’m right next to a door to exit the building, so why wouldn’t we evacuate?”

Olson believes that some of the problem behind why McCallum is unprepared for an active shooter situation is because nobody wants to talk about it.

I am very proud of our staff. All of our teachers showed up and did their job despite the fact that they’re going to have same of those same anxieties and concerns that parents and students are going to have. They know first and foremost that it’s their job to teach and take care of the students.”

— principal Mike Garrison

“I feel that because it’s not fun to talk about, no one talks about what happens when the shooter is in your room,” Olson said. “Cool, you locked the door, but it’s too late. The shooter is in your room. Then what do you do? And no one ever talks about that, and that’s the scariest part. What do you do if you’re in the hallway? Where do you go? A lot of teachers got sued after Parkland because they wouldn’t open the door, and so I kind of wanted to help my students understand this is why I wouldn’t open the door, and that you need to have a plan when you’re out in the hallway, because your plan A should not be, ‘I’ll go back to my class and my teacher will let me in’, because that goes against lockdown procedure, and it’s a safety concern.”

Olson added that despite feeling unprepared in the event an active shooter ever came to McCallum, she still believed McCallum to be safe on Valentine’s Day.

“I did feel safe coming to school, and I do trust the administrators and Officer Reilly who had talked to Ms. Adamson, who had communicated with us,” Olson said. “I do trust them, and if they say it’s safe to come to school, then I knew they wouldn’t put us in danger. But I do just wish there was some sort of system. We just need to have it. I hope this is a reality check that we are not prepared. If something like this happens again, being unprepared is the most dangerous thing.”

Garrison is appreciative of Olson and the rest of McCallum’s staff for still coming to McCallum despite the threats.

“I am very proud of our staff. All of our teachers showed up and did their job despite the fact that they’re going to have same of those same anxieties and concerns that parents and students are going to have. They know first and foremost that it’s their job to teach and take care of the students, so I’m very proud of our staff for showing up and taking care of everybody [on Feb. 14] and every day.”

Garrison joined Austin ISD Police Chief Ashley Gonzales and Associate Superintendent of High Schools Dr. Craig Shapiro for a Facebook Live discussion of the incidents described in this story.  To view the episode, please visit or click the link below.