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The Student’s Friend

by Published on
photo by Daniel Setiawan
Allen Weeks at the Save Texas Schools rally, Austin, TX, 2011.

Tyrant’s Foe—Allen Weeks

When 11,000 Texans flooded the Capitol grounds in March to protest proposed cuts to education, there were plenty of memorable characters on stage—the young teacher facing a pink slip, the gifted fifth-grade orator demanding funding for his school, the superintendent who compared the fight for education to the fight for the Alamo. Folks might not have remembered Allen Weeks, but the rally wouldn’t have happened without him. He’s the nerdy guy who kept the Save Texas Schools program moving along—and who chaired the effort to create one of the biggest Texas rallies in recent political memory.

Weeks, the director of Austin Voices for Education and Youth, hasn’t always been a political organizer. Before moving to Texas, he spent 20 years teaching high school and coaching track in Virginia. He taught at a prep school and at what he calls “the toughest school in Richmond.” Then he moved to Austin and helped form the St. Johns Community Alliance to advocate for the North Austin neighborhood’s needs. But the bookish former track coach was focused on health care in the community. He’d never even been to a school board meeting.

Less than five years ago, the Austin Independent School District threatened to shut down a middle school in the St. Johns neighborhood because of low test scores. Weeks found himself in the midst of a fight to keep the school open. “The district hadn’t warned anybody,” Weeks says. “I went home and said to my wife, ‘This is not going to stand, this cannot happen.’” Thanks in part to the Community Alliance, St. Johns was already organized. Parents and advocates came out in force.

Weeks went inside the schools to interview teachers about what they needed and how the school could improve. “Nobody had asked them that,” he says. “They had the answers.” The effort paid off—the school board decided to let the school stay open, and as the changes brought improved test scores, the school was out of danger of being closed.

Weeks took a similar approach to fighting the budget cuts. In January, concerned parents and volunteers met. The House had just unveiled the first draft of its budget, with almost $10 billion in education cuts. As Weeks began organizing a coalition, he and his volunteers found similar groups of parents all over the state. “It was just great, the diversity,” Weeks says. “It was a pretty big logistics effort, but it was pure volunteer.”

The effort is far from over. As the budget process continues, Weeks has helped Save Texas Schools become a sustained, all-out effort. Fifty volunteer organizers continue holding events around the state. “I think Save Texas Schools reflects that 80 percent of people out there believe we need basic services to have a prosperous state,” he says.