Since kindergarten, Bradley Bell and Brandi Sneed have attended Skyview Elementary together. Their moms have worked together on the PTA, and their families are close.
But when the children enter fourth grade this fall, they will go their separate ways.
In an effort to relieve overcrowding at Skyview, the Richardson Independent School District is sending 200 former Skyview students to the new Math/Science/Technology Magnet School at 707 E. Arapaho.
Brandi is leaving Skyview. Bradley is not.
Both moms, Stacy Bell and Alyssa Sneed, are happy RISD is doing something about the overcrowding, but they say it will be hard for the families to part.
“It’s pretty bittersweet,” Alyssa says. “It’s a lot like losing a friend.”
As Skyview shrinks, other schools in Lake Highlands continue to grow. According to a recent RISD study, our neighborhood has a big problem.
Our schools are bursting at the seams.
Too Many Minds to Feed
In September 1994, RISD formed the Long Range Space Needs Committee to study overcrowding throughout the district. The results were presented this summer to RISD’s Board of Trustees along with enrollment projections for the next 10 years.
The message is clear for Lake Highlands. We already have more students than we have space for in our schools, and the problem is going to become worse unless RISD takes action.
“RISD has had a tremendous reputation over the years. We can’t let overcrowding affect the results we get,” says RISD Superintendent Vernon Johnson.
“It would be a wrong assumption to say the schools that are overcrowded are bad, because they are still doing well, but the kids are being cheated.”
In our overcrowded schools, students are being tutored in hallways because there aren’t enough classrooms available. Competition is tough when it comes to checking out library books or booking time in computer labs because there is more demand than supplies.
Music teachers are conducting classes in cafeterias when physical education students aren’t using the space, and portable classrooms have covered what used to be open, grassy playgrounds.
“Things changed dramatically overnight,” Johnson says. “It was not a problem we (RISD) were prepared to deal with.”
When singles-only apartment complexes were outlawed in 1986, many families moved into RISD and our neighborhood. This was the main cause of overcrowding, says principals at Lake Highlands schools.
“Our school system is so good, I think people have made a conscious choice to move to the area to get their children in RISD,” says Randy Reid, principal of Lake Highlands Junior High and a member of the Space Needs Committee.
“The Lake Highlands area is also very popular itself. We’re a victim of our own successes in some ways.”
Today there are 1,600 students too many in the Lake Highlands area, according to the committee. That number is expected to double in 10 years, and that is an “incredibly conservative” projection, says neighborhood parent and RISD school board member Anne Barab, a member of the Space Needs Committee.
If something isn’t done to address the problem, every Lake Highlands school – from the elementaries to the high school – will be severely overcrowded.
To accommodate the growth without busing or building, the Space Needs Committee predicts Lake Highlands would need 138 portables. At present, we have 61 portables.
But portables don’t make cafeterias, bathrooms, libraries, gym locker rooms or playgrounds larger, principals say. And portables don’t make discipline easier.
“People have been very patient, but it’s time we did something,” Johnson says. “It isn’t going to be a simple problem to fix.”
The first step toward addressing overcrowding is the new magnet schools, Johnson says.
In addition to the tech magnet, the Classical Magnet School opens this fall at 701 Beltline. These schools teach students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
The tech magnet will offer a top-notch education, Johnson says, with multimedia computer centers used daily at each grade level.
The Classical Magnet will emphasize the basics, Johnson says. Students also will wear uniforms and learn Latin.
Skyview and Aikin elementaries in Lake Highlands and Dover Elementary in Richardson will each lose about 200 students to the magnets. Students from several other schools also have asked to transfer to the new schools.
The magnets were in the planning stages before the Space Needs Committee was formed. The three elementaries had immediate problems that couldn’t wait, Johnson says.
Last year, Skyview had 722 students in a building designed for 500. Old storage closets had been converted into offices and special needs classrooms. Lunch took half the day, with groups of students shuffled through the cafeteria from 10:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Aikin had 777 students and 12 portables. The school building, without the portables, accommodates about 400 students. With staff members, there were close to 900 people a day at Aikin, says principal Joyce Bowman.
Last year, students living north of LBJ Freeway were bused to Skyview and Aikin. Many of these students live in apartments and come from single-parent families. They are known to move often and are more likely to be economically disadvantaged, says Barab, who has put three children through Skyview.
The Space Needs Committee found that schools with the most severe overcrowding problem also have the largest number of at-risk children, Barab says.
This year, however, neither Aikin or Skyview will bus students. Nine of the 18 apartment complexes Aikin served last year have been reassigned to magnets. Twenty of the 40 complexes Skyview served also have been reassigned.
The change is welcome, Bowman says, but difficult. She has made reducing mobility of apartment families a top priority as principal. Now, she has to tell the same families she convinced to stay that they have to leave.
“I don’t want to lose my kids,” Bowman says. “They’re part of Aikin, all 800 of them, but when a school gets as large as Aikin, it creates a tremendous challenge for the staff.”
Alyssa Sneed also is torn. Last year, she served as Skyview’s PTA president and saw her son, Van, graduate from the elementary. She didn’t want to leave when she first heard about the magnets, she says. But she owns a condo on the wrong side of LBJ.
Her daughter cried when told she had to say good-bye to her friends. Now, however, both mother and daughter are excited about the tech magnet.
“My daughter is going to get a private school education at no cost,” Alyssa says.
What is happening at Aikin and Skyview may foreshadow what is ahead for other Lake Highlands schools.
The Space Needs Committee has made several recommendations to RISD to solve overcrowding problems. The options include busing, building schools, building additions to existing schools, grade reconfiguration, boundary changes or a combination of these.
The Raw Numbers
The following information was provided by RISD’s Long Range Space Needs Committee. Last year’s enrollment at each school is compared to the maximum number of students the school can hold without using portable classrooms.
LAKE HIGHLANDS AREA 7,620 9,256
Aikin 408 777
Lake Highlands Elem. 600 638
Merriman Park 288 508
Moss Haven 336 587
Northlake 432 548
Skyview 504 722
Stults Road 240 315
Wallace 480 635
White Rock 552 659
Forest Meadow JH 840 1,062
Lake Highlands JH 952 1,132
Lake Highlands HS 1,988 1,673
BERKNER AREA 8,692 10,259
Big Springs 456 604
Dartmouth 360 506
Forestridge 360 702
Jess Harben 240 501
Mark Twain 192 430
O’Henry 288 451
Richardson Terrace 576 673
Richland 432 536
Springridge 384 478
Yale 504 783
Apollo JH 1,092 951
Liberty JH 812 874
Richardson JH 588 728
Berkner HS 2,408 2,042
RICHARDSON AREA 8,202 8,466
Arapaho 456 291
Bowie 528 460
Dobie 242 735
Dover 480 571
Hamilton Park 560 682
Northwood Hills 456 443
Richardson Heights 576 595
RISD Academy 792 807
Spring Creek 312 308
Spring Valley 384 462
Richardson West JH 784 822
Westwood JH 896 835
Richardson HS 1,736 1,455
J. J. PEARCE AREA 6,808 5,595
Brentfield 744 663
Canyon Creek 288 294
Greenwood Hills 384 392
Mohawk 384 323
Northrich 552 429
Prairie Creek 240 293
Prestonwood 408 454
Parkhill JH 700 584
Richardson North JH 1,148 692
J. J. Pearce HS 1,960 1,471
So far, no plan has been adopted by the school board, but Johnson and Barab say it looks as if RISD is going to have to build, which most likely means a bond election.
The only section of RISD that isn’t overcrowded at present is the Pearce High School attendance area. Pearce has some extra space, but it doesn’t have much, Barab says.
The Berkner High area is nearly as overcrowded as Lake Highlands, and most Richardson High area schools are at capacity or over capacity.
“There are no schools being under-utilized for you to bus students to or change boundaries to,” Barab says.
Johnson favors building magnet schools, he says, because most students at them choose to be there.
But some students will have to be reassigned. Without reassignment, RISD can’t control which schools lose students to magnets, Johnson says.
To build new schools, RISD needs vacant land, of which there is little in Lake Highlands.
Another option is to renovate existing buildings, which is how RISD created the two magnets. The tech magnet once was an office building, and the classical magnet once was a church.
Retrofitting is much cheaper than building from scratch, Johnson says.
No solutions will be implemented without community input, Johnson says. This fall, RISD administrators plan to hold a series of public meetings with neighborhood residents to discuss options. Johnson says the school board hopes to finalize a plan of action in early 1996.
“We want to build a consensus,” Johnson says. “We’re trying to listen.”
RISD has been accused of not listening to Lake Highlands parents in the past, but Sneed says district administrators listened to her concerns about the new magnet schools and have made an effort to ensure parents are involved.
Stacy Bell, Skyview’s current PTA president, says she has been impressed with Johnson’s attention to Skyview’s problems since he was hired as superintendent in March 1994.
As the overcrowding debate heats up, both mothers say we can’t lose sight of what’s good for our children.
“I really think the kids are going to surprise everybody,” Bell says.
“They’ll be fine. Life is all about change.”