MERGING MINDS: West Side residents and CPS Network 3 Chief Randel Josserand meet to discuss improving West Side schools. | AustinTalks

About a dozen West Side residents, teachers and others concerned about education in Austin gathered earlier this month to continue work on a 5-year improvement plan.

Among participants was CPS’s Network 3 Chief, Randel Josserand, who said a vital step for improvement is attracting highly qualified elementary school students to continue their education in Austin rather than attending high school elsewhere.

“Most neighborhood schools don’t retain the kids that live within the boundary. We’re not different in that,” Josserand said.

Students choose schools outside of their neighborhood sometimes based on where their siblings or friends attend, but the decision is not based on that alone. Some students choose a school with a low rate of disciplinary issues, as previously reported by the Chicago Tribune.

“We need to improve relations, communication and exposure,” said Dwayne Truss, an Austin resident and community organizer.

Members of Austin Coming Together are changing the narrative with plans to incorporate programs that expose students to a variety of professions that will get them excited about their education. This will help them decide to attend high schools that offer programs for what they would like to pursue.

For example, Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet School offers a manufacturing program.

Natasha Smith-Walker, an Austin resident and executive director of Project Exploration, said educating elementary and middle school students about their options will help them decide what high school to choose based on the programs offered at Michele Clark.

“If you ask a fifth grader what they wanna do when they grow up, they’re not going to know because they haven’t been exposed to enough options,” Walker said.

Jamaris Ealy, a seventh grade teacher at George Leland Elementary School and founder of the tutoring service Bridge Builder Tutoring, said the strategies that Austin Coming Together has come up with so far align with his work as an educator.

“Some of the kids get to high school and take these entry-level exams, and they say it’s too advanced. We need to offer workplace prep in addition to high school prep,” Ealy said.

His Bridge Builder Tutoring offers high school preparation for incoming freshmen and workplace preparation.

Instilling the sense of dreaming beyond short-term will help inspire the students to think about their future, Truss said.

Tonight (March 7), the economic development and community narrative working groups will meet from 6 to 8 p.m. at 5049 W. Harrison St. All are welcome.

For more information, call (773) 417-8615 or email