Earlier this school year a group of Lake Highlands homeowners started an effort called “Take Back Northlake”.

The purpose, according to a note from Amy Timmerman, neighborhood resident and Realtor, is to “protect property values and take back our school.”

The issue, according to Timmerman’s flier, is that very few home-owning families living within the Northlake Elementary School attendance zone actually send their children to Northlake, a Richardson ISD school. Not only is this situation frustrating to parents, she notes, but it also deflates property values.

“Northlake has made it their mantra to grant transfers to other schools and not welcome the homeowners,” the widely emailed flier reads, “but it is time to embrace our school, increase our property values and send our kids to an amazing school.”

(Would you send your child to Northlake? See our poll at the bottom of this post)

Since its mid-August inception, the group has changed its name from “Take Back Northlake” to “Let’s Back Northlake” and members have met with the Northlake principal Glenda Howell and visited the school. Relations between home-owning parents and the school’s administration are increasingly positive, Howell tells us.

In the years that Howell has been principal at Northlake, since 2005, the school has ranked academically Recognized or Exemplary. Everyone seems to agree that the teachers are great. Three out of four years, in recent history, Northlake teachers won District Teachers of the Year, one former Northlake parent notes in an email response to “Let’s Back Northlake” publicity.

Howell say she wants neighborhood families to be a part of Northlake.

Is it true that many people living in the Northlake attendance zone request transfers to another school?

Yes. As of September 10 of this school year, 25 students who live in the Northlake attendance zone have transferred to another school in the district. Twenty-four have transferred in from other attendance areas. (To learn what school each of those transferred to/from, or their reason for transfer, we will need to file a formal records request).

The reasons for a transfer can vary, RISD spokesman Tim Clark tells us. Regarding the transfer policy itself and a principal’s role in it, Clark says, “The [transfer] policy exists to provide parents a choice, and requests are considered individually on a case-by-case basis. Both the neighborhood school principal and receiving school principal have the ability to make a recommendation on each transfer request, but they do not make the final decision. RISD boundaries are set up to embrace the neighborhood school concept, so the decision to request a transfer initiates with a family.”

We asked Principal Howell why she thinks families from the Northlake attendance neighborhood so frequently request transfers.

“That is something I can’t answer,” she says. “The district has a policy to provide a choice for families who want to pursue a transfer. I can’t say why they choose.”

A few participants on the “Let’s Back Northlake” Facebook page cite lack of parental involvement as a reason for transferring from Northlake. Others counter that they have been to the school and witnessed volunteerism among parents. There may be various reasons for transfers in and out of the school, but among them, undoubtedly, is an undercurrent of fear or discomfort that no one I have talked to wants to directly address on the record.

Northlake’s student body comprises about 90 percent Black/African American (41.4%) and Hispanic/Latino (48.7%), not exactly a reflection of the demographics of the surrounding houses.

It brings to mind a story the Advocate‘s Keri Mitchell wrote back in 2006 regarding transfers at DISD schools. The then-principal at Lakewood Elementary — a school many home-owning families from other attendance areas were clamoring to get into — didn’t talk much about the role race or socioeconomics played in parents’ desires to transfer children or send them to private schools, but she did say the following:

If race or socioeconomic status of other students is a factor in parents wanting to transfer their children into Lakewood, “they don’t put that on the [transfer] application,” Thompson says. But she sympathizes with parents concerned that their child will be a minority, whatever the race.

“Whether you are at a predominately white school and your child is Hispanic, or you’re at a predominately African-American school and your child is white, the concern is, ‘Will my child fit in? Will my child be welcome?’ And there are so many ways to be a minority,” Thompson says.

If fear of socioeconomic or ethnic differences (or whether a family lives in an apartment or owns a home) is shaping the makeup of a neighborhood elementary school, perhaps this is the time for honest conversations and a shift toward more balanced and diverse schools. Could that potentially be an additional aim of the “Let’s Back Northlake” rally?

Principal Howell says she is anxious to work with Timmerman and the other parents in their effort to back Northlake.

We will continue to explore this movement and to look at transfers in and out of other Richardson schools.

Advocate staffers plan to record a podcast with some of those involved with the “Let’s Back Northlake” effort. Look for that conversation to be posted in the next few weeks.

If you are interested in adding something to the ongoing story, please email me at chughes@advocatemag.com.