Interim Superintendent gets sneak peek of new Austin HS

Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan walked into a sun-drenched classroom situated on the third floor of Austin High School and let out a small gasp.

Drawn in by the view, she made her way towards the floor-to-ceiling windows and took a moment to observe the outdoor courtyard seen below.

“This is beautiful,” Lathan said, as Austin Principal Orlando Reyna stood beside her and shared his vision for the space. 

Perhaps the courtyard could be the site of a physically distanced prom, he said. Or host the school’s alumni association. Whatever the case, both agreed the courtyard was something special. 

With just a few weeks left before the East End cornerstone formally opens its doors to students on Jan. 6, Lathan and a small group of district officials visited Austin High School for a tour of the new facility, built as part of the 2012 Bond Program. 

The $80.9 million, 288,628-square-foot campus features a three-story academic wing with flexible learning spaces and state-of-the-art classrooms, all which support project-based learning and encourage collaboration. 

As Reyna led Lathan through the hallways of the modern campus, they popped into history teacher Laura Baumgart’s classroom so she could demonstrate the school’s smart board technology. 

“Now it’s more interactive and I can circle whatever symbols I want,” Baumgart said as she used her finger to draw and write directly onto the whiteboard. 

Other school features include a dining commons with booth style seating, a flexible band hall with independent practice rooms, two gyms, and a weight room. 

“Everything looks great,” Lathan said. “We’ve kept our commitment based on what the voters approved in 2012.” 

Additionally, there are new labs that showcase the school’s magnet programs. The maritime simulator lab, for example, is a space where students can learn how to pilot ships. About 400 students are enrolled in the maritime program right now, though Reyna anticipates higher numbers once students see how well the lab mirrors the realities at sea.

Mighty Mustang school pride can be found throughout the building — from the revitalized historic exterior facade and original auditorium to the hints of green in the new carpet and furniture and mascot-themed tables and wall art.

“I think the campus is going to really bring this community together and make them feel proud of who they are and where they come from,” Reyna said.  With Austin soon to open, just one 2012 Bond School — Bellaire High School — remains under active construction under its original scope of work. Once all projects are done, HISD will boast one of the most modern portfolios of urban high schools in the nation.