KXAN Austin

Austin ISD trustees approve $25M in upgrades to Norman Elementary

Monday night, trustees with the Austin Independent School District approved a modernization plan for an under-enrolled campus in east Austin. Norman Elementary will receive $25 million in improvements.

One option is to move the entire Sims Elementary campus to Norman by August 2020 once the work is complete. The board did not make a decision about the future of Sims.

The enrollment at Norman Elementary and Sims Elementary has been on the decline over the past few years. Norman is at 40 percent capacity and Sims is at 57 percent capacity. Both schools have about 200 students each.

The proposed changes are part of the $1 billion school board voters approved in November 2017. Norman is the first of 17 campuses set to be modernized with the bond dollars.

Starting in December, the district held eight planning meetings with a team of 16 people. Austin ISD says there was even representation from both school communities to help them decide which campus made the most sense to modernize. 

The group, which leaned toward modernizing Norman, looked at a number of factors including the specifics of each facility, neighborhood characteristics and space to build. Norman Elementary sits on 10 acres versus eight acres at Sims Elementary. 

Two members of the planning team, Jim Harrington and former AISD Trustee Cheryl Bradley, signed a letter stating both Norman and Sims should be modernized and left intact, and ended with, “The bond election was to strengthen communities, not divide them.”

Harrington also submitted a letter to the school board that said “there was no effective or substantial outreach to parents or families,” and called the parent engagement series a “one-sided presentation.”

Monday, parents picking up their children at Sims Elementary had mixed feelings on the issue. Some say they have had multiple children and grandchildren attend the campus and would like to keep the campus alive. One father moved his daughter from Norman last school year and prefers the culture and teachers at Sims.

Others are excited about the idea of moving their children to a more modern campus less than a mile away, even if it means leaving the campus they love.