Boundary changes on the horizon

The Ector County Independent School District Board of Trustees will consider school boundary changes Tuesday, but one component is probably not going to occur just yet — moving more students to Hays STEAM Academy.

The board meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the board room of the administration building, 802 N. Sam Houston Ave. A meeting to discuss a contract with Texas Tech University to convert Ector Middle School into an in-district charter has been changed to Thursday.

Bringing more students to Hays was discussed at a recent parent meeting at Bonham Middle School. Some expressed concern that the new non-magnet students would not be tested as the magnet students are and that only Hays, and not Reagan, was being singled out.

After talking to the principal at Hays, Crowe said he is now rethinking the idea. But he said that will not derail boundary change plans, which are meant to relieve overcrowding.

Crowe said after the April 17 meeting that it was Hays’ location that prompted the idea and he would look at other magnet schools down the road. However, parents expressed concern about the concept, as did Principal Amy Anderson, he said.

“I had a misunderstanding. … I’m not saying we won’t do it, but we’ll really have to take a look at how we would do that. It’s a tested entry, which is different than just signing up to go and not having to be tested. We’ve got to really reconsider that,” Crowe said.

After three nights of meetings — two in person and one online — ECISD Public Information Officer Mike Adkins said he thought the gatherings went well. Turnout wasn’t large, but the questions were good and he said some of the same concerns were expressed as when the district changed boundaries about three years ago.

Fifth graders and eighth graders will be able to stay at their campuses and special needs or services will follow the students to whatever school they attend, Adkins said.

Some parents were upset that their child might have to move to another school after being at one campus for three years, but Odessa’s growth necessitates the change, Adkins said.

“It’s something we have to do. It’s hard on kids and families when you have to change schools after a couple of years,” Adkins said.

Some of the overcrowded schools include Buice, Jordan and Johnson elementary schools.

In 2018, Jordan Elementary is predicted to have 1,120 students. Crowe said its capacity is about 700. Buice has a capacity of 650 students, but is predicted to have 952 students in 2018.

Johnson also is capped at 650 students, but Crowe said it will have 1,192 in 2018.

Some students would be moved to Goliad, Ross, Ireland and Blanton. The added students will bring Goliad Elementary to 664 students in 2018; Ross to 505 students; Ireland to 729 students; and 723 at Blanton.

Crowe has said this would drop Jordan to 826 students.

He said he’s still considering pairing Noel and Pease and Travis and Zavala elementary schools.

A second rezoning proposal pairs Pease and Noel and Zavala and Travis elementary schools together.

In each case, one campus would be for prekindergarten through first or second grade and the other would focus on the upper elementary grades.

The plan would meet the state’s requirement for repurposing schools that are in their fifth-year of improvement required status under state accountability standards while focusing on early childhood literacy with more pre-k spaces, “which is an area of weakness for our community,” the information said.

ECISD has eight campuses on improvement required status. Ector, Noel and Zavala elementary schools are in their fifth year. If the campuses don’t come off the list, they will face closure or the Texas Education Commissioner will appoint a board of managers over the whole district.

Crowe said he has met with parents of Travis and Pease students and plans to meet with parents of Zavala and Noel students the week of April 23.

“We know that a lot of our kids aren’t ready for school and we know the way they’re not ready for school is in literacy, that the reading competency — their reading readiness,” Crowe said.

If the prekindergarten through second grade campuses focus on early literacy, that prepares students for grades three through five. Crowe added that prison systems are built based on the percentage of students who read at grade level by third grade.

Another benefit of the pairings, Crowe said, is that it will be less like running two different schools for principals. High schools and middle schools are three or four grades, but elementary schools are prekindergarten through fifth or kindergarten through fifth.

If a principal is proficient in early childhood, they should find an assistant principal who is good with upper-level elementary students.

With the pairings, Crowe said the principals can provide staff development for purely kindergarten through second grade teachers and teachers in grades three through five.

“Then we can come together to make it one family, so it’s an easy transition for the kids. They already know the teachers and it defeats the state coming in and taking over these schools, so it’s a dual purpose,” Crowe said. “We get to control how we run our schools, not the state.”

He said students will still be bused, just in different directions.

Crowe added that he has checked with the transportation department and as near as they can tell, it won’t cost any more money. A lot of parents will still be driving their students to and from school, he said.

Combining the schools will cost more at the beginning, but it will balance out. Currently, Zavala, Pease and Noel do not have prekindergarten, so if those seats are filled that will generate more funding for the district.

“There’s a waiting list for pre-k now. We believe it will be cost neutral,” Crowe said.

When he talked to Pease parents, Crowe said they were excited about not having to drive crosstown to a prekindergarten and starts could be staggered if parents had a second grader and a fifth grader, for example.

The district also proposes to provide a shuttle between the two campuses, so the younger students would be shuttled to the upper-level campus.

“There might be a little expense there,” Crowe said.

He added that the students would have to cross University Boulevard, which is considered a hazardous route. Crowe said the district is reimbursed for hazardous routes.