On a recent evening, Anne Barab watched as the last portable classroom was removed from Skyview Elementary’s grounds.
This one act at one neighborhood school signified a change in the Richardson Independent School District. The event marks the end of an era in which many Lake Highlands residents felt their concerns were overlooked by district officials.
It also signifies a beginning – RISD’s first step toward solving problems plaguing our neighborhood schools.
“Vernon Johnson and the school board are committed to make sure Skyview will not get overcrowded again,” says Barab, a Lake Highlands resident who was recently elected to the RISD school board.
“Certainly, Lake Highlands will not be overlooked. I feel they will be represented. It’s a high-need area in the district.”
Barab served on the district’s Long Range Space Needs Committee, which studied RISD overcrowding and drew up recommendations for addressing the issue. The committee was formed, district officials say, because of extreme overcrowding problems in Lake Highlands schools.
But Lake Highlands is only the alarm for problems throughout the district. The Berkner and Richardson High Schools attendance zones also are experiencing overcrowding.
This fall, RISD’s board will host a series of community meetings to educate the public about the problems and possible solutions.
But whatever is said or done, one thing is certain: Things will change in RISD, and more specifically, things will change in Lake Highlands.
“Fundamentally, you are either doing better or doing worse, no matter what you are doing,” Barab says. “If we don’t do anything, we will get worse.”
Overcrowding in Lake Highlands’ evolved during the past eight to 10 years as families moved to the many apartment complexes in our neighborhood, Barab says.
“What worried me the most was that overcrowding came as a surprise every year,” says Barab, whose children attended Skyview.
Because overcrowding and its associated problems weren’t addressed, many parents opted to send their children to private schools. Last year, Barab says only 10 percent of Skyview’s student population was from the surrounding single-family neighborhood.
“Our neighborhood school was not a neighborhood school,” Barab says.
“Now we have to rebuild this school, which will take several years.”
Parents who did keep their children in Skyview worked hard to make the school the best it could be, Barab says. But, when they took their concerns to district officials, the parents often felt ignored.
What happened at Skyview occurred at other Lake Highlands schools, Barab says.
“The previous administration refused to acknowledge the problem,” Barab says. “But when Vernon Johnson came on, he really started looking at it.”
“It’s definitely because of Vernon Johnson. The district could have continued with its ‘hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil’ mode.”
But, Barab and others say district officials are seeking solutions to the problems, and the Long Range Space Needs Committee was just the first step in the process.
“The objective is to get as many people as possible involved because we know these are some pretty drastic proposals,” says Bettye Stripling, RISD board president.
“The Lake Highlands area has been absolutely swamped because of all the apartments.
“We’ve known for so long there have been problems in Lake Highlands. I think there was a time where no one knew what to do. There’s been so many problems that happened so quickly.”
John Shipman, who also served on the Long Range Space Needs Committee and lives in the Berkner High School attendance zone, says he had heard neighborhood parents’ concerns at a school board meeting. But he says the problem didn’t really register until he saw the committee’s research.
“It was rather startling to see the numbers,” Shipman says. “When you drive through the area and see all the apartments, you don’t make the correlation that each apartment can hold two to three children.
“(Other RISD residents) wouldn’t have any concept of what’s going on in Lake Highlands. And I don’t blame them. But now that the committee has the numbers together, they will have to learn.”
“It’s going to have to be an RISD community answer,” Stripling says. “Because we’ve all got problems coming down.”
“Everybody has to support it. It will be a major undertaking. I think we can do it. We’ll be fine, but it’s going to be hard.”