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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Lately, the crypto market is looking shaky.
The price of bitcoin fell by more than half from its high, the digital currency luna crashed to $0 and a type of so-called stablecoin TerraUSD has been described as dead.
Reporting from the LA Times notes that experts seeing a correlation between traditional markets and the cryptocurrency market is high right now, with plunges in one being followed by a plunge in the other. On Wednesday, stocks had their worst day in more than two years with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 1,164 points.
Crypto’s volatility has long been questioned, especially after SXSW this year was filled with Web3 enthusiasts and displays.
With 8% of Texans owning Bitcoin and many others involved in the local crypto and Web3 scene, what are they feeling amid the crash?
In a written comment to Austonia, ATX DAO said a positive with the downturn is that “most of the speculative moneygrab type projects get washed out of the market, and the quality projects that deliver real value remain and gather more attention.”
The group went on to say it could work to their advantage as they carry out their latest project: a mural at Native Hostel that will have an NFT version. They’ll use sales toward donations to HOPE Outdoor Gallery, a local nonprofit that supports artists and creatives.
Meanwhile, Yagub Rahimov, a founder of an Austin-based Web3 company explains that they aren’t really impacted by the crash.
Since the company known as Tested Web functions as a Web3 online reputation marketplace, it is utilizing blockchain technology without tokenizing.
“We are a share to earn marketplace. That means that any activity that users have on tested web.com, we will be rewarding,” Rahimov said. “Those rewards are coming in the form of rewards points. And every quarter they can opt in to receive either a gift card or a check. We are not issuing any cryptocurrency. That's one of the important elements that I believe we got it right that way.”
With recent developments at Tested Web, Rahimov says he “couldn’t be happier.” After struggling to find tech talent in early spring, he’s had a hiring spree in the last 10 days and received a $1 million grant and partnership with Silent Notary, a blockchain-powered validation provider.
But his recent business success aside, Rahimov is noticing what’s happening in the markets and predicts that the correlation between the crypto market and traditional one will be broken.
“The way Bitcoin was introduced back in 2009, it was as a reply or response to the 2008 market crash,” Rahimov said. “And it really feels like we are in 2007, 2008, actually, early, early days of the market crash. And if it becomes that way, very likely that the winner is going to be those of decentralized parties.”
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Barton Springs Pool is on a condensed schedule while the city tries to fill out its lifeguard roster.
The popular pool is currently closed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays while it navigates a lifeguard shortage. The city is offering bonuses to new applicants who can start by early June.
Austin Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Jodi Jay said there are 207 lifeguards ready to work and 100 incoming but the department needs 750 to be fully staffed.
Zoom out: The pandemic has had a lasting impact on hiring—in 2019, the city was able to hire 850 lifeguards. The Aquatic Department has been unable to match those numbers since it reopened training classes in spring of 2021.
Why it matters: The city needs at least 400 lifeguards, plus 30 with open water certification, to open pools on a modified schedule by June 4. Without hitting that mark, some facilities could limit hours or close.
The job pays between $16-19 an hour, anyone over 15 can get certified and there are bonuses on the table:
- $500 bonus if you get certified and start working by June 6.
- $500 bonus if you work through August 14.
- $250 bonus if you get advanced certification.