The principals at Aiken and Skyview Elementary are breathing sighs of relief these days. Classrooms aren’t filled to capacity, discipline problems are down and teachers have more time to work with students.

RISD’s spring decision to open two magnet programs to help reduce overcrowding has worked, according to the two principals.

“The teachers have even commented that there’s a calmer atmosphere with more freedom to move,” says Skyview Elementary principal Mary Ann Schwab.

Schwab says the school’s enrollment has dropped by 35 percent, from 730 students to 470.

“With fewer children, there are going to be fewer problems with discipline,” Schwab says.

“We feel like this is a new start and that the kids are receiving quality learning.”

Skyview now serves lunch around noon instead of from 10:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m., which frees up the lunchroom for use as an auditorium. Also, children no longer attend classes in the five portables that once were a part of the campus.

“The students seem happier – there’s a very upbeat atmosphere here.”

Joyce Bowman, principal at Aiken Elementary, says the school’s enrollment has declined 26 percent, from 775 students to 570. Aiken is seeing similar improvements, Bowman says.

“There’s a lot less stress dealing with 600 kids, and it’s much more manageable.”

Bowman says Aiken has become “more of a community school,” because many students now live within walking distance. (A large number of students were bussed to the school last year.)

This proximity makes it easier for neighborhood students to participate in school events and programs, including the new Voyager Expanded Learning after-school program, Bowman says. Aiken also is planning to offer a morning program for students whose parents must be at work before school begins.

The school’s mobility rate (the number of students who move from the neighborhood during the school year) has decreased, because children from nine apartment complexes – rather than 18 – now attend Aiken, Bowman says.

“Overall, this is a real positive for the kids.”

While the enrollment at Skyview and Aiken has declined, most other neighborhood elementary schools still suffer from overcrowded classrooms.

In an ongoing effort to address the overcrowding in our neighborhood’s schools, the district has held five public hearings about long-range space needs.

RISD’s Board of Trustees could act on a space-need plan by March. Trustees may call a bond election to fund construction costs and to support the district’s technology and major maintenance needs.

For more information on the overcrowding issue, call the Space Needs Hotline, 301-1180.

Search for RISD Superintendent Continues

No names have surfaced yet in a national search to replace Richardson schools Superintendent Vernon Johnson, according to school board President Bettye Stripling.

Dr. Johnson, who was employed by the Richardson district for 20 months, resigned in December to head the Voyager Expanded Learning Program. Dr. Johnson’s last day is April 1.

Board members hired former Dallas Superintendent Linus Wright to conduct a national search for the new schools chief. Wright works for the same firm that found Dr. Johnson, who in 1994 held the top schools post in Rochester, Minn.

Stripling says Wright will submit a list of candidates for board members to review and “weed out those who are not qualified.” Wright will then conduct criminal checks on the candidates before they are considered by the board.

The board may consider holding a meeting where representatives from various civic groups can meet the finalists, Stripling says.

Carolyn Bukhair, associate superintendent for instruction, will begin serving as interim superintendent following Dr. Johnson’s last day.

The board would like to make a decision by the end of the school year, Stripling says.

School board trustee Ron Hughes says he was pleased with Johnson’s “can do” attitude and hopes to hire someone with the same leadership qualities as the former superintendent.

“I was disappointed that he wanted to leave the district,” Hughes says. “I think he was doing a good job and had a lot of good momentum going.”

Board trustee Anne Barab shares Hughes’ sentiment and says “the momentum” must continue.

Hughes and Barab believe the new superintendent should focus on several pet projects of Johnson’s, including overcrowding solutions, special education policy revision, technology implementation and teacher compensation.