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Austin private schools are seeing a sustained enrollment bump as a result of public school campus closures during the pandemic and the continued migration of residents from California and other states.
Local experts say families who made the switch this past year in search of in-person instruction are likely to stay put, wooed by smaller class sizes and pandemic protocols that largely kept students on campus.
"The real litmus test is not for 2020," Austin Jewish Academy Principal Chris Aguero told Austonia. "The real test for whether this pandemic increased enrollment for private school is this school year."
Austin ISD, like other public schools across Texas and the country, saw a marked drop in enrollment at the start of the school year, with the biggest drop reported among pre-K students. Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizade attributed the decline to virtual learning in a Sept. 14, 2020 board meeting.
Meanwhile, the 10 largest private schools in Austin saw an 18% increase in enrollment for the 2020-21 school year compared to a 14% increase the year before, according to Austin Business Journal surveys.
Austin Jewish Academy, a K-8 private school in Northwest Austin with about 100 students, saw its enrollment grow by 20% last year, compared to a typical 15% annual increase. Many prospective families were seeking out in-person education as a result of a summertime surge in COVID-19 cases, which forced local public school districts to start the school year on a virtual basis, Aguero said.
But not all converts were leaving public school districts.
Teri Sperry, an education consultant and founder of Alt Ed Austin, saw an approximately 30% increase in inquiries last year. Much of the demand was driven by new arrivals from California or New York, whose kids were already enrolled in private schools. "The real estate situation during the pandemic has definitely affected the number of new people moving here looking for schools," she said.
With low COVID case rates heading into the 2021-22 school year, Austin ISD and other public school districts have announced plans to eschew virtual learning. Under these circumstances, some private schools worried that they would see their enrollment decline proportionally. "What I'm hearing anecdotally is that they're not," said Laura Colangelo, president of the Texas Private School Association, which counts 39 Austin private schools as members.
Aguero estimates two-thirds to three-quarters of the students who enrolled last year as a result of the pandemic will remain at the school next year, which he attributed to the school's offerings: small class sizes, Hebrew and Jewish studies, a close-knit social community and shared values. "I feel like the pandemic, for better or for worse, offered opportunities," he said. "Maybe to flail … but also to do well and market private school to new audiences."
Many private schools are still sorting out rules for the 2021-22 school year, including when to require masks and COVID vaccinations, Colangelo said. And even though it's late in the enrollment season, Sperry said more families than normal are still weighing their options: staying at their new private school, returning to their original school or trying out a third.
"I do think that educators everywhere, in both public and private spheres, as well as parents and even students are thinking more deeply and, in some cases, more radically about what works in education," she said.
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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