It’s time for Who’s Who yearbook applications

The yearbook staff is now accepting applications to determine the Class of 2019 Who’s Who. The Who’s Who page in the yearbook recognizes those seniors who have been most involved in school activities during their careers at McCallum. If you would like to be considered for Who’s Who, please come by Room 134 and get an application form or you can download one here. The forms are due back in Room 134 by Friday March 1.

If you have been involved in multiple activities at Mac, please apply so that your service and hard work can be recognized in the 2019 yearbook. All of us at MacJournalism would like for the Who’s Who list to reflect all of the wonderful programs at the school and the seniors who have been integral our school’s success over the last four years.

To download the application, click here.

To see the Class of 2018 Who’s Who winners, please see below.

AISD police monitoring reports of second threat

This morning before school started, McCallum was briefly on lockdown after reports that a student made a series of written and verbal terroristic threats to harm the school.

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

— Principal Mike Garrison's letter to McCallum families and staff

After police located and arrested the student, the school day began normally and principal Mike Garrison sent out a letter communicating what happened and stressing that any threats would be taken seriously and might lead to disciplinary action or arrest.

After reports of the first threat and subsequent arrest, students began receiving and disseminating social media posts describing a second alleged threat to the school by a friend of the student arrested in conjunction with the initial threat.

As a response, Mr. Garrison has issued a second letter to all parents and faculty addressing the rumors around the second alleged threats.

“Austin ISD police are continuing to monitor the posts.” Garrison wrote. “At this time, there is no danger to our campus, staff, or students. Out of an abundance of caution, however, we will have additional AISD police officers on campus tomorrow morning.”

The Austin Police Department is still investigating the credibility of reports of these most recent threats.

An Austin ISD police officer told MacJournalism this evening that they are working to investigate the credibility of reported threats by following up on all ledes.

Garrison urged anyone with any information or concerns regarding tonight’s posts to contact AISD police at 512-414-1703.

Beginning Black History Month

To kick off the very first day of Black History Month at McCallum on February 1, social studies teachers were given the opportunity to take their students, either in 5th, 6th or 8th period, to the Fine Arts Theatre for a talk by Dr. Leonard Moore, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas, and a panel discussion led by the McCallum Students of Color Alliance.

Kristen Tibbetts
Dr. Moore talks with sophomore Rob Wade about stereotypes for African Americans in basketball. Prior to calling Wade on stage, he asked the group why most of the starting players on the UT basketball team are black. Someone in the back of the theater yelled jokingly “because white people can’t jump.” Moore asked Wade if he played basketball and confirmed that he was not vertically challenged. Photo by Kristen Tibbetts.

“I really wanted Black History Month to be our first initiative at McCallum,” Students of Color Alliance president Jordan Bibby explained. “With Ms. O’Keefe and Ms. Griswold, we partnered up with Mr. Featherstone to try and see what we could do differently this year that might spark more conversations and hopefully get people to become more interested in activism and just raise awareness about the black experience in America.”

Bibby and the rest of the club met with Dr. Moore for the first time before the presentation.

I hope that from Dr. Moore’s talk people see the extent of racism and prejudice in everyday life and how it’s ingrained in our country’s history”

— Jordan Bibby

Dr. Moore spoke about his personal experiences living and working in central Texas, describing five specific moments in his life where he experienced prejudice. Some of them were in his professional career, such as a colleague mistaking him for a UT basketball coach instead of a Vice President. Others were on his daily commute to Austin, where he has been pulled over and searched twice by the police.

“I believe very few people are racist.” Dr. Moore said in his presentation.

The discrimination, he believes, comes from people’s subconscious prejudice and is fueled by stereotypes.

He pointed out that even seemingly harmless stereotypes, such as that African Americans are more skilled athletes, can be negative. To prove this point, Dr. Moore called up sophomore and varsity basketball player Rob Wade from the crowd to answer a few questions about the impact of race in basketball. Wade admitted that most successful NBA players were African American, but Dr. Moore emphasized that this disparity was caused by stereotypes, not biology.

It was eye-opening for me to realize the extent to which my life has been different from other students because of the color of my skin.”

— Jordan Bibby

He then explained that because society expects African Americans to be more athletic than their white counterparts, society also expects professional careers to be relatively dominated by white men. Both assumptions, he concluded, were harmful.

Throughout his talk, Dr. Moore encouraged the audience to share their opinions and give feedback, all in an attempt to better understand how prejudice affects society today.

“I hope that from Dr. Moore’s talk people see the extent of racism and prejudice in everyday life and how it’s ingrained in our country’s history,” Bibby said.

After Dr. Moore’s discussion, the audience watched clips from the movie “The Hate U Give” while a panel of students discussed how the events in the movie were similar to their own experiences and answered anonymous questions from the audience.

Kristen Tibbetts
Senior Naiya Antar responds to a video clip from the movie “The Hate U Give” about police stop-and-frisk policies and compares it with experiences in her own life. She said her family coached her about how to handle interactions with the police to protect herself. For example, she was taught to narrate her actions before taking them so the police would know her intentions. Photo by Kristen Tibbetts.

Bibby participated in each class period’s panel.

“From the panel, I hope people got to see a new perspective on issues that they may have never faced or even be aware of,” Bibby said. “It was eye-opening for me to realize the extent to which my life has been different from other students because of the color of my skin.”

Dynamic Knight duo strikes again


Robison and Irwin’s award-winning headline design as it appears in the 2018 Knight.

The Quill and Scroll International Honor Society has named sophomore Abby Robison and junior Ella Irwin as the sole sweepstakes winners among Class A (large) schools in the Headline Writing and Design category of the 2018 Quill and Scroll Yearbook Excellence Contest.

Design by Ella Irwin and Abby Robison
The headline design was part of Robison and Irwin’s page covering Spectrum, a campus group that provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and their allies.

Robison and Irwin won first place in the country for their headline design, “Showing their PRIDE,” that accompanied the yearbook spread about Spectrum, an organization that provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and their allies. In explaining why “Showing their PRIDE” won first place, the Quill and Scroll judge wrote: “Great use of spot color in typography to accentuate “pride” as [the] keyword in [the] headline. Strong visual-verbal package. Great job.”

Robison and Irwin were MacJournalism’s only sweepstakes winner but not the only yearbook staffers who earned recognition in the competition.

Olsen has taken her considerable talents to the University of Montana where she has found plenty of worthy things to photograph.

2018 managing editor Madison Olsen earned second place in the nation among large schools in the Clubs and Organizations Photo category for her photo, ““Pink’d Out” that captured PALS members Anna McGuire, Jasmine Skloss-Harrison and Abraham Dietz colliding in midair while reaching to catch a water balloon as it bursts during the Pink Wink PAL-lery on Oct. 12, 2017.

Madison Olsen
Reaching for a launched water balloon, Anna McGuire, Jasmine Skloss-Harrison and Abraham Dietz collide during the PALlery on Thursday. “It felt like I was part of a community in a way I haven’t felt before at McCallum,” Skloss-Harrison said. Photo by Madison Olsen.

To explain Olsen’s award, the Quill and Scroll judge wrote, “The action and expression combine to make this a strong storytelling moment. … It is an image with feeling – always a good thing!”

McCallum’s other Quill and Scroll winners earned Gold Keys for being selected as honorable mention winners.

Madison Olsen
Members of the swim team become cheerleaders in order to urge sophomore Cole Kershner to pick up the pace in the anchor leg of the 4×100 freestyle relay last night at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swim Center. Kershner’s team had built a huge lead, and he had slowed down to make the finish interesting. Despite Kershner’s gamesmanship, his team won the relay. Coach Courtney Long had created the makeshift Mac relay teams at the meet because it was a dual meet with Ann Richards and the boys had no competition to swim against. The girls did compete and defeated the swimming Stars at the meet. Photo by Madison Olsen.

Madison Olsen
MAKING IT RAIN ON THE RAIDERS: At the homecoming pep rally on Nov. 10, the senior section generates the deafening volume that would soon win the coveted Spirit Stick for their class. At the conclusion of the pep rally, students showered the class of 2018 with cups of glitter and confetti. “I support my school in everything that I can,” senior Charliee Arnold said. “It was so much fun to get to throw confetti and show school spirit with my senior class, until we had to clean it all up.” Photo by Madison Olsen.

Olsen won in three other photo categories: feature photo (for “Happy Hee,” a candid photo of trainers Rally Telano and Leah Cantu), sports action photo (for “Just Keep Swimming,” of swim team members urging Cole Kershner to finish strong in an intrasquad relay race at UT) and student life photo (for “Making it rain on the raiders,” of the senior section winning the spirit stick as it is showered with confetti during the 2017 homecoming pep rally).

Lily McCormick
Senior Sophia Bastidas and her teammates gather together after winning their first two set against LBJ 25-23 and 29-27, losing the third set, 25-21, and finishing out winning the fourth set, 25-22. This put the Lady Knights at 2-0 in district, “I used to be a right side a few years back, and I definitely prefer playing outside hitter now, I’d say it’s my dream position,” Bastidas said.

Lily McCormick won a Gold Key for her sports action photo, “Whoop, there it is,” showing volleyball team members Preslie Boswell, Sophia Bastidas, Darielle Cyphers and Amanda Biscoe gathering together after winning the second set of the their road match at LBJ.

Design by Kennedy Schuelke and Elena Henderson
The front endsheet contains short bios about the Knights featured on the front cover of the 2018 Knight, Beyond Blue. The bios introduce each person and explain how they represented the 2018 yearbook theme by going beyond the campus.

Co-editor in chief Kennedy Schuelke also won a Gold Key in the Personality Profile category for the inside-cover feature profiles about the students featured on the 2018 yearbook cover.

Madison Olsen
HAPPY HEE: Junior Rally Telano and senior Leah Cantu find each others “true laugh” before the Crockett game at House Park. To find your true laugh you lay on your back and put pressure on your chest to force out the true laugh. “All the trainerswere playing a game to have fun before the actual game,” Cantu said. In that actual game, the Knights caged the Cougars, 55-0, for their eight victory on the season. Senior Max Perez ran for 116 yards andthree touchdowns and passed for another 103 yards and a score. Senior Alexander Julian led all Knight rushers with 117 yards and two touchdowns. Photo by Madison Olsen.

To see all of the national first, second and third place winners, click here.

New CTE club fares well in first competition

McCallum competed in the SkillsUSA district competition for the first time this past weekend. At the District 10 SkillsUSA Leadership and Skills Competition in Waco, the team placed in all but two of the categories that it competed in. The team members who finished first or second qualified for the state contest April 4-7 in Corpus Christi.

My students are already talking about what they will do differently for next year, and we haven’t even competed at state yet.”

— SkillsUSA adviser James Hernandez

“The majority of my students competing this year are freshmen and I couldn’t be happier with our first time competing,” SkillsUSA adviser James Hernandez said. “We placed in more contests than some schools work years for. My students are already talking about what they will do differently for next year and we haven’t even competed at state yet.”

SkillsUSA is a national membership association serving high school, college and middle school students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations, including health occupations, and for further education. SkillsUSA brings together students, teachers and industry to help provide job and skills training.

Hernandez, who is in his second year at Mac, launched the new club this year after having prior experience and success with SkillsUSA at his previous teaching position with Edinburg Independent Consolidated School District in south Texas. He started a SkillsUSA club in Edinburg in his second year of teaching (in 2012), which is exactly what he’s done this year.

I couldn’t be happier with our first time competing. We placed in more contests than some schools work years for. ”

— SkillsUSA adviser James Hernandez

“At that time I was teaching Game Design and Web Design so SkillsUSA was a perfect fit since they specialize in Career & Technical Education (CTE) jobs/classes like ours,” Hernandez said. “We had many successes and winners. Every year [that I was there] we have placed in game, web and either pin design or T-shirt design at district allowing us to move on to state in Corpus Christi.”

The highlight for Hernandez’s Edinburg team came in 2016 when his game team won first place at state beating out long-time winners, College Station High School.

“That got us our first shot at competing on the national level in Louisville, Kentucky,” Hernandez said. “Out of 15 teams we ended up in ninth place, which is not bad at all for our first time at nationals.”

The McCallum SkillsUSA team is now preparing for state and is still in the process of collecting donations on their LivingTree fundraiser (

“Any donations will be greatly appreciated,” Hernandez said. “These will help us not only pay for our district expenses but also for our state trip to Corpus Christi.”

SkillsUSA Skills and Leadership State competition is April 4-7.



Shield repeats as NSPA Online Pacemaker finalist

Two years ago, the Shield Online could probably be best described as an afterthought.

In 2017, the site’s primary purpose was to house digital archives of print stories, an occasional photo-essay, and maybe a fluffy poll or two. Now, after two years of hard work to build a complete website, attract a loyal readership and establish its place as a trusted community news source, you can’t really call it an afterthought anymore. You can, however, called it is a national Pacemaker Award finalist.

For the second consecutive year, the Shield Online has been named a finalist for the National Scholastic Press Association’s top award. The Pacemaker Award is given annually to a number of school publications hand chosen by NSPA. Out of hundreds of submitted publications in the online category, 44 were chosen as finalists to compete for the selective 2019 Online Pacemaker Award.

“When the judges pick the Pacemakers, the sites are competing against each other.” said Gary Lundgren, associate director of NSPA. “What the judges do is talk ahead of time about things that are important to them or what they want to see, and then when the process is done they’ve picked the sites they think are the best.”

The most important quality in a Pacemaker publication, Lundgren says, is the amount of effort spent keeping the site’s content relevant and up to date.

If you’re using a website, and you’re essentially putting a print newspaper on the website, that isn’t nearly as powerful as if you’re using video and slideshows, and pushing the capabilities to the limit”

— Gary Lundgren

“I think one of the most important things is frequency. How often does that staff put relevant content on the website for its readers?” Lundgren said. “You can argue that in a digital world, if a school is only posting content on its website a couple of times a month, well, that’s not good because the best websites really do push content out daily, and if not daily certainly multiple times a week because you have to engage your readers to read the site.”

Along with frequency and relevancy of content, NSPA judges also look at writing and headline quality, social media presence, photography, how organized and easy to navigate the sites are, and if the site incorporates unique uses of media.

“If you’re using a website, and you’re essentially putting a print newspaper on the website, that isn’t nearly as powerful as if you’re using video and slideshows, and pushing the capabilities to the limit,” Lundgren said.

In 2018, NSPA awarded this website a Pacemaker Award at its spring convention in San Francisco. The website has had a short history, however, and a quick rise to the stand-alone publication it is today. Two years ago, the website served a different purpose.

“We didn’t have much of a website the first and second year I was on staff,” Shield co-editor Sophie Ryland said. “At the end of every print issue we would just kind of dump everything that was in the print issue on there just to have it online, really, but we had no online audience or presence really.”

As a rising assistant editor, Ryland’s vision for the publication was for it to stand alone from the print.

“I remember sophomore year we were doing editor interviews,” Ryland said, “and I was sitting down with Mr. Winter, and he asked me what I envisioned the future of our publication being, and I said ‘I think we need a better online presence’ and he said ‘I actually agree 100 percent with you,’ so that’s kind of the first conversation we had about it. “

That past year, the staff of the newspaper worked especially hard on improving the website, posting content from stories to polls, photo essays and videos every day, all while learning the technical ins and outs of the website. Despite all of their tireless work, the staff was still surprised to be nominated for such an important award.

“You never really expect an award nomination, especially not a Pacemaker because it’s so prestigious,” Ryland said. “It was really exciting. Mr Winter and I and the staff last year worked really hard on getting established. Last year, we were really just trying to get our foot in the door in terms of online newspapers, so everything happened really fast.” 

You never really expect an award nomination, especially not a pacemaker, because it’s so prestigious. it was really exciting”

— Sophie Ryland

In 2018-2019, the newspaper staff has continued to make the website a priority. When nominated for the 2018-19 Pacemaker Award, website editors Max Rhodes and Steven Tibbetts were not surprised, considering the work they and the members of the staff had put into creating new and relevant media for the site. Although short in history, the development of online journalism established last year still motivates the staff to continue to improve their website.

Tibbetts and Ryland both said that the staff is determined to keep pushing forward and expanding their site well past when Pacemaker winners are announced this spring. As journalism continues to push away from print and more towards online media, having a well-rounded website is more important than ever.

“Right now, most of our focus is making deadlines for the print, but I think we could start shifting over to doing whatever’s best for the website first,” Tibbetts said. “I’d say for any publication [a website] is pretty important because that’s definitely where the world of journalism is going, farther away from the print and more online.”


CSPA awards MacJournalism 17 Gold Circle Awards

The Columbia Scholastic Press Association announced via email on Thursday that it had awarded MacJournalism students 17 Gold Circle Awards in its annual national individual competition for yearbook and digital media staffs.

Shield co-editor in chief Sophie Ryland played in big part in MacJournalism’s success in the contest. The senior won five awards on her own and teamed up with 2018 graduate Aly Candelas for a sixth.”

The 17 awards included seven first-place awards. The contest attracted a total of 5,309 yearbook and digital media entries submitted in 91 categories. There is only one first place winner in each category, so MacJournalism captured first place in seven of 91 categories in one of the most competitive individual scholastic journalism competitions in the country.

“I have had some pretty special staffs over the years,” adviser Dave Winter said. “I am not sure I have ever had seven first-place winners in one Gold Circle announcement until now.”

Shield co-editor in chief Sophie Ryland played in big part in MacJournalism’s success in the contest. The senior won five awards on her own and teamed up with 2018 graduate Aly Candelas for a sixth.

Madison Olsen, the only student who served on both the Shield and Knight staffs in 2017-2018, won four awards for her writing and her photography and was part of award-winning caption-writing team that also included 2018 yearbook co-editor-in-chief Elena Henderson and 2019 senior yearbook staffer Margaret Olson. Olsen won first-place in the yearbook photo portfolio category and second place in the digital media photo portfolio category.

On Friday, the day after the CSPA announcement, MacJournalism found out that it had placed four winners in the latest Association of Texas Photography Instructors Social Media Contest. Sophomore Bela Tapperson and freshmen Anna McClellan and Elly Schottman all earned honorable-mention awards for their photos that touched on the contest theme #ATPILightsOut. MacJournalism adviser Dave Winter earned a third-place award in the faculty division for his picture of Chinese lanterns in Chinatown, San Francisco.

The complete list of McCallum winners is listed below with links to the winning entries when possible.

2019 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award Winners

Yearbook winners

Category 7 — Sidebar writing

First Place: Jacqueline McLellan, “Coming September 2018,” The Knight

Category 9 — Caption/cutline writing

Second Place: Elena Henderson, Madison Olsen and Margaret OlsonThe Knight

Category 21 — Photo portfolio

First Place — Madison Olsen, The Knight

Fans, players, their parents and all of Mac nation responded with euphoria to the Knights’ 38-33 victory over arch rival LBJ at Nelson Field. Senior JB Faught made a touch down saving tackle, but LBJ still had a chance to score. Senior Tyrell Washington made the tackle that ended it all on fourth down ending the game for the Knights’ first victory over LBJ since 2014.Photo by Madison Olsen.

Digital Media winners

Category 1 — Breaking news

First Place: Madison Olsen, “Students Storm Capitol to Ask for Safer Schools,” The Shield Online

Category 4 — News feature

Certificate of Merit: Sophie Ryland, “Documentary Crew Explores Texas-Mexico Border, Considers How Trump’s Wall Would Impact Rio Grande,” The Shield Online

Category 5 — In-depth news/feature story

First Place: Sophie Ryland, “AISD: A Segregated District, Then and Now,” The Shield Online

Third Place: Sophie Ryland, “Teachers Fight for Their Right to Fair Pay,” The Shield Online

Category 7 — Personal opinion: On-campus issues

Third Place: Sophie Ryland, “We Regret to Inform You,” The Shield Online

Category 10 — Blogging

First Place: Max Rhodes, “Rhodes Traveled,” The Shield Online

Category 13 — Sports news

First Place: Gregory James, “Knights D Cages Calallen to Win Region IV Final, Extend Playoff Run,” The Shield Online

Third Place: Sophie Ryland, “Cheerleaders, Choir Join National Protest,” The Shield Online

Category 16 — General feature

Second Place: Kristen Tibbetts, “Sixteen Quinces,” The Shield Online

Category 22 — Single spot news photograph

Second Place: Madison Olsen, “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Senior Jack Haimowitz Shares an Embrace,” The Shield Online

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.

Category 26 — Photography Portfolio of work

Second Place: Madison Olsen, The Shield Online

Najai Mckenzie Robinson of Crockett High School falls to her knees on the steps of the Capitol, screaming “Don’t shoot” to protest school shootings and discontent with gun-control legislation. Photo by Madison Olsen.

Certificate of Merit: Bella Russo, The Shield Online

Bella Russo
Junior Alexa Fannin spikes the ball between two Anderson defenders during the Knights’ 3-2 victory over the Trojans at Anderson on Friday night. Fannin, who played for Anderson last year as a sophomore, had eight of the Knights’ 51 kills for the match. Photo by Bella Russo.

Category 30 — Cartoon Portfolio of work

First Place: Charlie Holden, The Shield Online

Cartoon by Charlie Holden.

Category 39 — Video News Package

Third Place: Aly Candelas and Sophie Ryland, “Students Storm Capitol to Ask for Safer Schools,” The Shield Online

2019 Association of Texas Photography Instructors #ATPILightsOut Social Media Contest

Honorable Mention: Anna McClellan

Honorable Mention: Elly Schottman

Honorable Mention: Bela Tapperson

Third Place (Faculty Division): Dave Winter

AISD Budgeting for Dummies

Everyone is in fear of the measures the Austin Independent School District budgeting task force is willing to take in order to eliminate the $30 million budget deficit. At the rate AISD is going at right now, reserves will be exhausted within the next three years, and taxpayers will be sending $2.6 billion to the state over the next five years, only for it to be sent to property-tax poor districts other than AISD.

Thirty-five percent of school taxes is being sent from AISD to the state as the district pays the greatest recapture rate in Texas.”

Where this would usually be ignored, it’s leaving a huge dent in the AISD budget as the district is seen as wealthy simply because Austin homeowners have high property taxes. That assessment of wealth is not as true in reality as it is on paper. But as a result, 35 percent of school taxes is being sent from AISD to the state as the district pays the greatest recapture rate in Texas. This vast outlay of money siphoned from AISD to smaller districts is coming from the property taxes in the City of Austin.

What’s kept AISD is peril so far is something called recapture. Basically, the recapture system takes money from high property-tax paying districts and redistributes it to property-poor districts supposedly to even out the playing field for Texas schools.  The problem is, many Austin ISD schools and students families are just as poor or poorer than these small towns getting our money.

From AISD’s standpoint, they’re losing money too. Every student in AISD has a price tag on them. How high this price is depends on the student’s needs. For example, AISD receives more money for special education or ESL students.

Education Austin president, Ken Zarifis, speaks in front of the board at the Nov. 26 meeting about the proposals to change to a seven-period day or add two or three students to each teacher’s class. Photo by Elisha Scott.

What is making the situation even more difficult: students are leaving AISD schools for charter schools, and Eastside schools are under-enrolled, leaving the district with a $30 million deficit that could possibly balloon to be $70 million unless the district cuts costs.

The district is required to pay facilities for the entire building even if it’s not all being put to use. Due to under-enrollment in the East and the overpopulated schools on the West, a proposed solution is shutting down the Eastside schools and opening more schools on the Westside.

Students are leaving AISD schools … , leaving the district with a $30 million deficit that could possibly balloon to be $70 million unless the district cuts costs.”

An example of the school board taking action is the Liberal Arts and Science Academy moving to another building on in the East while the second floor of LBJ high school is used as a health science magnet school to bring the population back from the Westside. Unfortunately, with the stagnant budget we have for healthcare professionals while spending money on relocating students, some schools will be left without nurses.

The problem is that AISD is losing students due to the increasing issue with the budget, and the budget tightening is the district’s way to stop the bleeding. Charter schools get a taste of the Texas budgeting too, but separate from AISD. The new charter schools are cutting into the budget as they are not a part of AISD but receive money from the state.

City officials have brought up raising city taxes while lowering school taxes to keep them from getting snatched up by the state. Though this isn’t the most typical way of getting out of a deficit dug ditch, desperate times call for desperate measures.

A tale of two districts

While Austin ISD officials are holding meetings and crunching numbers to slim down the budget as much as possible before the next school year, the faculty and students of La Joya ISD are looking out upon their new, chlorine-scented addition: a district-funded water park.

Budget cuts are certainly not a new topic in Texas schools, but the $30 million dollar deficit that the Austin Independent School District is confronting head on has sparked some controversy over the proposed solutions to eliminate that deficit. One of these ramifications that provoked student reaction on the Mac campus was the rumor of a possible removal of funding for the McCallum Fine Arts Academy. In the end, there was confirmation that this would not be the case.

When the reserve fund gets too low, then it affects the district financial rating according to the state.”

— principal Michael Garrison

“Everybody that I have spoken with downtown says that the Fine Arts Academy will not go away,” McCallum principal Michael Garrison said. “The district realizes, as do we, that there is value in arts in the district, and there is value in having a quality program like the McCallum Fine Arts Academy.”

Other solutions that were considered to reduce expenses included the possibility of having teachers work seven out of eight periods next school year.

There was much concern over these possible cost-cutting measures, but neither proposed cost-saving measure was among the cost saving cuts proposed in the final report of Budget Stabilization Task Force that was submitted to AISD Superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz on Jan. 4.

A primary reason why the district is suffering from a $30 million debt is the funding formula crafted by the Texas Finance System. This formula requires a flow of money from districts with higher property values to districts with lower property values. Because the property taxes in Austin are so high, the formula requires that AISD pay a large amount of money into the recapture system. Schools in areas with lower property tax rates, among them La Joya ISD, 336 miles south of Austin along the Texas-Mexico border, receive money from the same recapture system.

I wish that we could lobby the state legislature and review this ‘Robin Hood’ plan. … It is hurtful to AISD for sure.”

— Band director Carol Nelson

This method, commonly known as the “Robin Hood” plan, has been in effect for several years, and as a result district funding for programs within AISD have been adversely affected. Over that time, the district has been forced to dip into its reserve fund in order to pay for all its budget obligations.

But now, Garrison said, “They’re getting to a point where they can’t continue to do that, because when the reserve fund gets too low, then it affects the district financial rating according to the state.”

There are already consequences being faced to meet these new financial requirements, and according to band director Carol Nelson, teachers are having to step up and do jobs that they haven’t previously been required to do.

“We almost feel like we’re drowning at some points,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to do all these things and the school district is cutting down on funds for fine arts, so the director is calling upon teachers to help out with the things that the district used to do.”

These tasks require everything from organizing transportation for trips to calling and scheduling events such as the band’s pre-UIL performances. “I wish that we could lobby the state legislature and review this ‘Robin Hood’ plan. … It is hurtful to AISD for sure.”

Gignac Architects designed the La Joya Water Park and Planetarium. According to the firm’s website, the project has three main parts: an admissions area, a natatorium building and a water park. The natatorium includes a 10-lane competition pool and two diving boards. The water park includes a covered toddler pool, and a larger leisure pool, a water slide and a winding river pool. Photo by Gignac Architects.

On the other end of things, La Joya ISD (about five hours south of Austin), has recently opened up a $20 million dollar investment of a brand new water park. According to KTRK Houston reporters Ted Oberg and Keaton Fox, the district receives most of its funding from the state including Robin Hood payments from urban centers like Houston and Austin.

“The idea is to promote wellness for our kids while also improving academics,” La Joya ISD Superintendent Alda Benavides told the McCallen Monitor in a story published on April 7  (just before the park opened). “When you have 93.9 percent economically disadvantaged kids … to serve the kids you have to bring a lot of the experiences to them. … So, the district takes responsibility in bringing the opportunities.”

When you have 93.9 percent economically disadvantaged kids … to serve the kids you have to bring a lot of the experiences to them.”

— La Joya ISD Superintendent Alda Benavides

In addition to the water park, the 215-acre complex includes a planetarium, a 27-hole golf course, tennis courts and a natatorium, the Monitor reported.

The park is made up of two body slides, a tube slide, lazy river, and multiple pools for recreational activity. The park has other uses as well, according to La Joya High School student Rebecca Ramirez. She said that the pools are used for swim team practice, with the location being much more convenient than their previous practice space. Ramirez, however, isn’t completely sold on the idea of using this funding for the water park.

“It honestly angered me at first,” Ramirez told MacJournalism. “In the past five years we’ve only had one or two district members travel to state from diving or swimming so I don’t understand our need to monopolize on it. I was not surprised that the school did not invest in its classroom resources such as smart boards, mold removal, or even better equipped AP teachers because this last year they also spent thousands of dollars on new stadium lights that did not need to be changed.”

I was not surprised that the school did not invest in its classroom resources.”

— La Joya High School student Rebecca Ramirez

After a pause, she went on to say: “If it’s not budget cuts, it’s lack of recognition for the arts.”

Benavides told the Monitor that they were restricting the park to district student only until they learn how best to operate the facility.

“Since we just opened it, we thought we’d just do our district and learn from it,” Benavides said.

As for AISD’s budget woes, nothing has been officially decided as of yet, and the recommendations of the task force are just that … recommendations, but going forward, cuts will take place in some form. Whether it be elimination of jobs downtown or within schools, schedule changes for students or longer hours for teachers, the district is actively looking for a way to most efficiently beat this deficit.

For these three Knights, cost of government shutdown hits close to home

Junior Acacia Burnett doesn’t have to tune in to CNN or check the president’s Twitter feed to learn about the effects of the government shutdown. For Burnett, the effects of the government shutdown are personal.

Junior Acacia Burnett hopes that the shutdown and its personal costs will force politicians to end the divisiveness that has typified contemporary politics. Photo by Risa Darlington-Horta

Because of the shutdown, her mother, Aphrica Farrow, is close to being out of a job at the federally-funded program Women Infants and Children, or WIC. WIC is part of the City of Austin government, and it supports women who need help supporting their kids. The program provides food, health care, and breast pumps to mothers in need and is run through the health department. For Burnett the effects would be devastating for her family losing a major source of income.

“I hope that this wakes people up that we need more unity,” Burnett said. “Division isn’t solving anyone’s problems, and it is creating more problems like people not getting paid, people getting evicted, or could be evicted from their homes. It’s not helping anyone.”

Burnett’s story is not an isolated one either. She is one of the thousands of cases of families affected by the shutdown nationwide.

Division isn’t solving anyone’s problems, and it is creating more problems like people not getting paid, people getting evicted, or could be evicted from their homes.”

— junior Acacia Burnett

With the government shutdown going into its third week, many parts of the government can not operate without funding. The national parks and monuments are closed to the public and the nearly 800,000 federal workers in the United States are either working without pay or furloughed (because their federal employer is closed). The only federal workers that are working currently are the essential services such as the United States Postal Service or the Transportation Security Administration. 

These workers are working without pay and for some families the short-term but immediate loss of income is devastating. Working Americans simply cannot afford to work for free.

Freshman Finn Higginbotham’s father is in this exact position as an essential worker for the national government. His father, a federal agent, is currently working without pay. For the time, Higginbotham’s family is able to get by on his mother’s salary, but the financial strain will soon be felt by his family.

“Shutting the government down for this long just because he wants a border wall is, in my opinion, something that is not only taking away from my family and putting us in a hard position, but also other people’s families who may rely on that income a lot more,” Higginbotham said.

The one way that federal employees like Higginbotham’s father could decide to not work is by filing for unemployment or simply not showing up for work. But one thing that federal workers cannot do is strike. Under current laws federal workers are not allowed to protest the current situation, and for some of those working without pay, this fact is crushing. Higginbotham believes the best way to help is to make your voice heard by protesting the building of the wall and by calling your congressmen to tell them that enough is enough and the government cannot be closed one day longer.

Freshman Finn Higginbotham feels that Trump’s approach to the budget is more like a dicatator’s than a president’s. Photo by Risa Darlington-Horta.

 The shutdown is also affecting government-funded aid such as Food Stamps. Food Stamps supply around 44.2 million Americans nationwide with funds to buy food. The funding for this program will run through January, but there has been no confirmed funding for February. Around the nation federal workers are lining up at soup kitchens and accepting donations from neighbors who are helping. The shutdown is the third shutdown in the nearly two years that President Trump has been in office and the longest one, lasting 25 days and counting. Due to its length, the shutdown is now on the verge of causing hundreds of thousands of people to lose their jobs and potentially a lot more because they are unable to pay bills or buy essential items. Without funding, government-run entities are unable to operate daily, and many people are furloughed or working without pay, as is the case with postal workers and TSA agents. Trash in the nations parks is accumulating, turning what was once natural splendor into a picture of neglect.

Junior Tyler Broz’ family is one of the families at risk of losing their home if they can not pay the bills. His step-father, a top-tier auditor for the IRS, is now out of a job, because he has been furloughed. Broz’s step-father has found part-time work in the meantime, but soon the bills on the house that the Broz family bought last summer won’t be paid.

“We have no way to pay bills or buy food and any of the basic things we need to survive, and we don’t know when the government will be open again,” Broz said.

Junior Tyler Broz said that the border wall that Trump is demanding won’t stop illegal immigration. The shutdown over the issue has hit his family hard. Photo by Gregory James.

For Broz, it’s not hard to find the source of the problem. Broz also believes the proposed wall is a bad idea for our


“Over the past 10 to 15 years, they’ve increased border patrol, and it hasn’t stopped anything,” Broz said. “It hasn’t done anything to curb the illegal immigration problem. There is nothing wrong with immigration, and they are expending funds that are better allocated elsewhere to this wall, and shutting down the federal government was not the right move to go for.”

For now, Broz and his family will have to wait out the storm and hope that the shutdown ends sooner rather than later.

Despite the damage it is causing to Americans, President Donald Trump has remained firm in his demand for Congress to include $5.7 billion in its budget to fund the building of a wall at the U.S. Southern border with Mexico. This source of funding is different from what then-candidate Trump said in the 2016 campaign, promising that Mexico would pay for the southern border wall. President Trump told reporters at the White House on Jan. 4 that he will essentially keep his promise, because the recently drafted United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) will bring in billions of dollars in revenue. The trade agreement, signed by the leaders of all three countries at the G20 summit on Nov. 30, has not been approved by Congress, an important step in its success.

There is nothing wrong with immigration, and they are expending funds that are better allocated elsewhere to this wall.”

— senior Tyler Broz

President Trump has said that he will keep the government shutdown going “as long as it takes” in the name of national security.  President Trump has even gone as far as threatening to declare a national emergency if the House of Representatives continues to refuse funding for the border wall.  This declaration would allow construction on the wall to begin without funding from the House, allocating funds from the military construction funds. Since Jan. 15 however, Trump has taken that threat off the table. The president continued to claim that the Democrats are to blame for this shutdown in his address to the nation on Jan. 8.

“The federal government remains shutdown for one reason and one reason only, because Democrats will not fund border security,” Trump said.

Democratic leaders Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York)  have repeatedly opposed the proposed wall because they believe it will prove ineffective at stopping illegal immigration, as well as be a waste of taxpayer dollars. Schumer has repeatedly blamed President Trump for the shutdown, calling Trump’s storming out of the Oval Office in their meeting on Jan. 9 nothing short of a “temper-tantrum.” This is consistent with what Schumer said after the Democratic leader’s first meeting in December of 2018, with President Trump and Speaker Pelosi.

“No president should ever be proud to shut the government down,” Schumer said in a statement made in the Senate Chamber. “No president should so glibly use the American government, and the millions of workers who work so hard, as a bargaining chip. That is where President Trump is headed.”  

The federal government remains shutdown for one reason and one reason only, because Democrats will not fund border security.”

— President Donald Trump

President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have rejected offers from the Democratic leaders to reopen the government and to continue operations as normal by voting for a continuing resolution. The resolution would allow for parts of the government to be funded, beginning to opening up department by department, which would allow government workers to work again for pay and release those who are currently furloughed.

But President Trump has refused to allow a continuing resolution to be passed without securing funding for his border wall and in the Dec. 11 meeting he claimed that he had the votes in the House to support a wall–a claim that was refuted by Speaker Pelosi– saying the only thing stopping the government from reopening was the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority of 53 senators. In order for the spending bill to pass, President Trump would need the support of seven Democratic senators to reach the 60-vote threshold. The Democrats want to vote to reopen the government and believe they could have the votes to get funding without a border wall in the budget, but President Trump is not budging from his demand that funding the wall be part of the budget. Senate Republicans are backing him up.

If the President decides if he wants to keep the government closed then that’s more similar to a dictatorship than to a presidency.”

— freshman Finn Higginbotham

This stalemate between the President and Congressional Democrats has led to frustration for many Americans, including Higginbotham.

“If the President decides if he wants to keep the government closed, then that’s more similar to a dictatorship than to a presidency,” Higginbotham said. “You can’t hold the government hostage because you feel something has to be done. That’s why we have checks and balances. … There’s going to be people in the government that need to be caring about their jobs to keep this country running, and they’re not going to care, because they’re not getting paid.”


UPDATE: Since the publication of this story the government has reopened temporarily for a three week period while funding for the government and the proposed border wall is debated over between the House and the President. If a funding bill agreement is not reached by Feb. 15, the government shutdown will restart or the president will declare a national emergency.

Population shifts threaten under-enrolled schools

In the last few years, many of America’s large cities, including Austin, have been experiencing a phenomenon known as gentrification. Gentrification is the process of richer people moving into a poorer area and raising the surrounding property values, which causes many original residents to leave because they can no longer afford their homes.

In East Austin, where gentrification is prevalent, families are being pushed out and replaced by younger, higher-income, generally childless people, which has led to lower school enrollment.Partly as a result of decreased enrollment, many schools are at risk of being shut down, and schools that will remain open fear a loss of funding.

Some schools in Austin have been able to stay open because of bilingual education programs.

“You had a community [with] high numbers of Latino families,” said Professor Dan Heiman from the department of teacher education and administration at the University of North Texas.

Bilingual education programs were created to allow Spanish speakers to get an education while being able to learn English. As more native Spanish speakers were pushed out, however, the programs shifted to focus on the higher-income, native English speakers.

“While dual language bilingual programs used to draw new students and keep the school open, this often occurred at the expense of the students for whom the programs were designed,” said Professor Rebecca Callahan from the University of Texas at Austin.

“I can predict within the next year or two that we are going to have schools close and collapse into themselves,” said Kristina Gurrierez, a bilingual and dual language education professional development specialist for AISD.

Gutierrez has worked in AISD for five years, and over this time has witnessed the effects of gentrification on poorer schools.

“Schools that are usually filled to capacity are going from having 600 students, to 200 students and some of them might close because of that,” Gurrierez said.

The drop in enrollment is largely due to population movement caused by gentrification. Because gentrification leads to higher living costs, families with school-aged children have had to move out. As these families leave Austin, enrollment in AISD schools goes down.

Schools in gentrified areas are losing not only students, but staff as well.

“Teachers aren’t really able to live in the area,” Gutierrez said.

Teachers who lived in or near the district possessed valuable knowledge of the community and its members. As they depart, that knowledge is lost.  The combination of declining enrollment and increased cost of living combine to push teachers out of the schools where they are needed most.

Another side effect of having fewer students and teachers is that classes are consolidated, which makes it harder for students to get individual attention from remaining teachers who have more students to teach.

“Instead of having four classes, you only have two very full classes,” Gutierrez said.

This means that each teacher has to work with more children, and as a result can’t spend as much time with each student.

An underlying question arises when looking at these changes: What can be done about it?

“Let’s make sure that we provide transportation for students who don’t live in the area,” Heiman said.

AISD and the city of Austin have been exploring affordable housing and other accommodations for lower-income families. These discussions are in very early stages, however, and most likely won’t be realized in the short term.

“I want to be hopeful,” Heiman said.

For now, that’s the most that can be done.

On the chopping block

Alejandra Estrada is tired of having to shove her first graders into supply closets during active shooter drills. For the students at Williams Elementary where Estrada teaches, there is no hiding under desks or sitting in corners because their outdated, open concept school building has no walls.

The first-grade class next to me has to come into my classroom and go into one of my closets while I shove the rest of my kids into my tiny hall office,”

— Williams Elementary teacher Alejandra Estrada describing active shooter drills on her campus

“The first-grade class next to me has to come into my classroom and go into one of my closets while I shove the rest of my kids into my tiny hall office,” said Estrada, standing outside of the Nov. 26 AISD board meeting to protest her schools lack of funding before the Board of Trustees solidifies the 2019 budget. “It’s happening all over the school, and it’s just not safe.”

With debate over the budget in full swing, all parts of the AISD community have come together to defend what is important to them, and what is on the chopping block in trying to alleviate the district’s well-publicized $30 million debt.

For most of the protesters rallying against the debated budget, it’s the prospect of changing to a seven-out-of-eight class period work day for teachers, increased class sizes or the consolidation or outright closing of under-attended schools.

For McCallum kids and parents, it is the consideration that the fine arts programs might see reduced or eliminated funding.

For Estrada and her fellow teachers at Williams Elementary, safety is the main concern.

AISD has already cut the funding they need to employ cafeteria monitors to make sure their pre-K and elementary students are safe during lunch and at recess; they need the district’s help in paying for these important support jobs and helping to make their school a more secure and controlled environment.