Top 100 Best High Schools 2013 – Liberal Arts and Science Academy High School – Newsweek – 33/100
Liberal Arts and Science Academy High School
7309 Lazy Creek Dr, Austin, TX 78724, United States
The Liberal Arts and Science Academy of Austin (LASA) is a specialized high school for students interested in liberal arts, science, and/or mathematics. As an advanced academic magnet school, it admits select high school students from across the Austin Independent School District (AISD). Prospective students apply to the school before an annual January deadline, and admission decisions are based on multiple criteria including grades, standardized test scores, essays, teacher recommendations, extracurricular activities, awards earned, and an admissions exam administered by LASA. Because LASA is the only high school academic magnet program in AISD, competition for admission can be strong: 35 out of the 203 students in the LASA Class of 2011 (17.2%) were National Merit Scholars. In 2011, Newsweek ranked LASA #21 among the nation’s best high schools, and ranked the school #38 nationally in 2012. The Washington Post ranked LASA #30 in the nation in 2011. In 2012 U.S. News and World Report ranked LASA #7 in the state of Texas and #54 nationally.
LASA was designated an Exemplary high school by the Texas Education Agency a year after its opening as a separate high school in August 2007, and has maintained that designation every year since.
The LBJ Science Academy, Austin’s first magnet program, was created in 1985. The Liberal Arts Academy at nearby A.S. Johnston High School (now Eastside Memorial High School) opened in 1987. The two programs were merged in 2002 and became the Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA), housed on the LBJ High School campus. For the next five years LASA remained an advanced academic program within LBJ High School until the school board voted in 2007 to make LASA a separate high school. Although each school has its own principal, administrative staff, and academic faculty, the two schools share the same campus and have combined fine arts and athletics classes. They are served by the same school newspaper (The Liberator) and publish a shared yearbook (Stetson). LBJ and LASA compete in UIL events as one school (as LBJ or “Austin Johnson"). In 2011-2012 the total student enrollment at LASA High School was about 870, while that at LBJ was about 1000.
LASA shares its campus with Lyndon B. Johnson Early College High School.
Construction and Design
The LBJ campus is located in northeast Austin. The school was built in 1974, taking on a portion of what had been the Reagan High School student body. The school was designed by Brooks, Barr, Graber & White, an Austin based architecture firm. LBJ went through various renovations during summer 2010, including remodeling many of the science labs used by LASA. The building is primarily triangular and is sometimes referred to as “The Uterus" with the addition of the fine arts wing off of the dark purple hall way. There is also a new, state-of-the-art theatre, which was finished late in the 2006-2007 school year. The Theatre was named the Don T. Haynes III Performing Arts Center, after LBJ’s band director of 37 years. The outside of the campus is maintained by a volunteer group of students and parents. The most well known feature of the LBJ campus is “The Texas," a large, granite statue in the shape of the state’s outline. The statue, a gift from the class of 1978, sits outside the front of the school. As the school is built upon a hill the lowest level is partially underground to the north and therefore has no windows. It is fondly referred to as “The Dungeon" throughout campus. The Dungeon contains the wood shop, gym, and some science classrooms. Additionally there are two upper floors of which the first is inhabited by LBJ and the second upper floor is inhabited by LASA. On campus there are also eight portables only 3 of which are used by LASA. It is three stories tall, with three protruding academic wings currently designated by 3 different colored borders: white, yellow, and purple. The hallways were previously white, yellow, and purple, but in the 2010-11 school year the hallways were repainted to light purple, medium purple, and dark purple, because of a communication error. This made it hard to find the correct classroom as the building is geometrically symmetrical. Only the downstairs LBJ hallways were intended to be repainted. After the one year of confusion, the hallways were once again repainted to be white, yellow, and purple. The repainting was done in the hopes of reducing gang violence present in the LBJ hallways. The purple halls are mostly humanities and ELA (English/Language Arts) rooms, the white halls are mostly for math, and the yellow halls are mostly science classes. In the eighties, the hallways were blue, red and orange. At that time, a huge student-painted mural dedicated to Kent Faseler, a girls’ soccer coach and English teacher dubbed in the mural as “the Wizard of Fas," adorned one wall next to his class area in what was then the “orange open area" on the second floor. One notable feature of the school is the fine arts hall, a wide open space lined with lockers designated for band students only. In 2002 a group of seniors started a Reagan-LBJ tradition by wrapping the Texas in saran wrap to protect it from vandals. The night before the annual Reagan-LBJ football game, seniors wrap the Texas in saran wrap and spend the night keeping it and other parts of the campus safe from vandalism by students of their rival Reagan High School.
LASA’s traditions are as diverse as the people who make them. Traditions vary depending on the class, club, or time of year the campus is observed. For the academy, one can begin with the Magnet Showcase in January, in which all of the magnet classes, as well as many clubs and sports teams stay after school one night to show what LASA has to offer. There is often a friendly rivalry among classes and clubs over who can attract the most attention. In early April, Coffeehouse occurs. The event, which originated at Johnston and was brought over by English teacher Matt Kelly, is a talent show where students perform music, drama, poetry and prose. There is also Car Bash which is held before the big rivalry football game, students pay $1 for an unlimited number of hits for 30 seconds or $5 for unlimited hits for 5 minutes to smash a donated car with a sledgehammer. The Car Bash is hosted by LASA’s Robotics team led by Anthony Bertucci. The car is often spray painted either with the rival’s name or with random teachers’ names. Throughout the year there are Communal Lunches. Frequently held on the first or last Friday of a grading period, Communal Lunch is a gigantic pot luck lunch and stress reliever as students are seen bringing pogo sticks, guitars, and blowing bubbles to the lunch. The last tradition of the year is the Senior Salute. The Salute, sponsored by the Parents and Friends of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, is the new senior recognition ceremony that replaced the Science Academy Senior Banquet. Its main purpose is the recognition of the LASA Senior class and is where students are awarded their magnet certificate. The event is filled with multimedia presentations, readings, music, skits, student speeches, and in the end an academy senior class photo. There is also a smaller interclass gathering on the last day of school: the LASA picnic, usually held at Zilker Park, it usually student organized with students arranging transportation and times, it’s bring your own lunch, and then joining other students at Barton Springs Pool, time for talking and yearbooks, and just general camaraderie.