Spotlight on Community Member Vincent Tovar

Eliana Legatt, Staff Writer

In Vincent Tovar’s own words, he is an advocate for both public education and the Austin east side community. Tovar is currently working with the Austin Independent School District (AISD) on creating more affordable housing in the east side by working to see if they can locate or co-locate low income housing on some of AISD’s unused lots. Tovar said the new change would allow children to stay in the schools where they want to be, help schools to stay open, keep enrollment in schools in the area more stable, and give teachers more housing security. Tovar has lived in Austin for over 20 years, having graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and acquired his first teaching position at Piccolo Elementary School in 2005.

“My role is, I would say, first and foremost, as a parent,” Tovar said. “I’m proud to have sent our son and our daughter to Govalle Elementary, and my partner, their mom, is the librarian at that school.”

Tovar has helped multiple candidates campaign for the AISD school board, including Gina Hinajosa, Carmen Tilton and Piper Stege Nelson. In 2016, Tovar was Jayme Mathias’s official campaign manager. Tovar also worked on the 2017 bond campaign, which was a $1 billion bond that passed in Austin and was intended to improve all school facilities in the district. 

“When I was a [college] student, and even when I was a high school student, my passion was to work with the most marginalized communities,” Tovar said. “And those that were the most impacted, historically disrespected, which usually looks like our low-income families of color. So that’s where my heart is.”

Tovar was in a group that was part of the movement to keep the Individuals Dedicated to Excellence and Achievement (IDEA), a charter school that former superintendent Meria Carstarphen supported, from moving further into the east side. IDEA was planning to move into Eastside Memorial High School, Martin Middle School and some elementary schools in the area. According to Tovar, charter schools have unregulated admission processes and behavioral policies, as well as false advertisements. The movement against IDEA chose the name “Pride of the Eastside,” a name that was previously used for the Johnston Rams, the mascot for the now-defunct Johnston High School. Later, with the blessing of Johnston alumni, the group took the name. 

“I shouldn’t say I co-founded Pride of the Eastside but that I helped to lead a resurrection of that name as part of a new group formed to save the vertical team from being privatized,” Tovar said.

LASA, in its current form, was created when the Liberal Arts Academy high school at Johnston, founded in 1987, merged with the Lyndon Baines Johnson Science Academy in 2002, and the school became independent in 2007. In the coming 2021 school year, LASA will be moving to the current Eastside Memorial High School campus.

“For [the Johnston alumni], I could see it being a bad joke because it’s really sad and infuriating,” Tovar said. “Because what happened, if you talk to a lot of folks, is that when the Liberal Arts Academy…was at Johnston and then taken out, there was a big notice of academics dropping.”

According to Tovar, after LASA left the Johnston campus, their test scores dropped, and a few years later the school was repurposed. Before the vote in the 2017 bond campaign, LASA offered to take the mascot and colors from Johnston Highschool to keep their memory, but after the vote those conversations stopped happening. This later created a controversial divide between Johnston alumni and LASA, according to Tovar.

Tovar said, more than anything, that the work and history of the east side is not forgotten as many people leave or new people enter. Tovar also said that with gentrification in East Austin, there is less authenticity, but the history of the area and the people living in it are what make East Austin special to him. 

“There are very real aspects to the life and the people here,” Tovar said. “And by real, I think that a lot of communities mask or hide…who they really are and are trying to live on airs and create some kind of front, whether that’s through resources or wealth or clothes or status, and I feel like there’s a lot more just real connection that you can have with the original East Side community.”