Achieve students, staff settling into former Lincoln Middle School

McALLEN — They went from an all-portable campus at South Texas College to their first brick and mortar classrooms. Students and staff at Achieve Early College Campus are all moved into what school district officials are now referring to the Lincoln-Achieve campus.

The entire Achieve Early College High School cohort, which is currently at 491 students, began their school year at the former Lincoln Middle School campus, marking the first time that these students, teachers and staff are housed a traditional campus.

“It’s great being inside a building,” said Achieve Principal Miguel Carmona. “To be honest I now see the majority of the students. This is my second year and last year for example, parents would drop off students here, there and anywhere, and I would never see the totality of all students… now every morning I’ve been at the drop off area and I see the long drop-off line. So now I have all students in my focus throughout the whole day.”

The district held a formal ribbon cutting celebration this week at the new Achieve campus, which McAllen Superintendent Jose Gonzalez said was well attended.

“We had a tremendous turnout last night, the building was full,” he said. “So I want to thank all the parents for trusting McAllen ISD with their children and all the staff for all the hard work.”

Students at Achieve slowly begin taking classes at the STC campus after their freshman year. Once they enter the 10th grade they are allowed to take one or two classes at STC, while 11th and 12th graders take most of their six to seven classes at the junior college except for a few English, math or science classes at the high school.

The daily commute between portables was safe, Carmona said, but it would also result in staff not being able to have eyes on a lot of students. Now the students’ main gathering area is the former Lincoln campus, which is located across the street adjacent to STC, and they then get bussed to and from the campus using buses that run every 10 minutes.

“I can see all of our students now,” he said. “Before I wouldn’t see a kid most of the week because he was going to class… now I can walk the halls, since now we have halls, and I can see the students more often.”

One of the biggest needs at Achieve was to find a more secure location that could protect students not only from passersby accessing the portables, but from the weather. The former campus didn’t have an indoor gym facility so any physical education exercise would be outdoors only, now they can utilize the gym for these and other activities as well as their own library.

“Although we are not at the campus anymore, we are across the street, we are excited about the proximity, we are excited that the kids get to have a nice brick and mortar structure,” said Gonzalez. “They are a national blue ribbon school, they have been ranked as Americas Best High Schools… their performance is outstanding as a campus.”

Plans for this big move were solidified in April after McAllen school district officials along with the board of trustees discussed options to address enrollment decrease and facilities’ needs throughout the entire district. The goal was to provide Achieve students and staff with a safer environment, larger classroom space and overall, all the perks that come with a campus facility, Gonzalez said.

“Our number one priority is keeping kids safe, and although we never felt that they were not safe at South Texas College… it was just a series of portables,” Gonzalez said. “Now the former Lincoln Middle School is a solid building, it’s structurally sound. So to have them there from a safety standpoint, is beneficial.”

The plan constituted redrawing some district lines to move all students from Lincoln Middle School to nearby middle school campuses including De Leon, Travis and Fossum. Most teachers would follow their students to their new middle school campuses, while others would move to other schools within the district or even administration.

Gonzalez reiterated throughout the entire process that this change would not result in layoffs, considering they still needed additional teachers in the other middle schools and possibly staff. On Thursday, Gonzalez confirmed there were no positions or jobs lost as a result of the transition.

District officials had also discussed possibilities of renting out space to STC for evening classes if needed at the Lincoln location, but Gonzalez said these conversations have not been brought back up. Instead, he said, the college might be interested on land that is south of the new Achieve campus. However, no plans have solidified yet.

Overall, he said the transition was made smooth by all of those involved, either leaving or coming into the former and renowned Lincoln Middle School location.

“Part of the smooth transition was parents, teachers, students, administrators all working together to ensure that we all work as a team to make that transition smooth, so I really want to thank everybody for that,” Gonzalez said.