Ninth graders would attend Lake Highlands High School beginning as early as next year as part of a new plan proposed by Richardson ISD staffers to address increasing enrollment in LH feeder schools. The freshman center would instead become a part of the high school campus, with its spaces redesigned and repurposed for other uses, including new vocational programs and an Early College High School (ECHS).

LHHS Principal Frank Miller and RISD Superintendent Kay Waggoner welcomed attendees at Thursday night’s meeting, stressing a willingness to listen to members of the community. Nothing has yet been decided yet, they promised. Growth of more than 25% over the past 5 years in LH and more than 49 classrooms already added in elementary and junior high classrooms demonstrates that “people want to be a part of LH schools,” she said.

A new wing will need to be constructed at the high school using 2016 bond money, said Assistant Superintendent Tabitha Branum, but in the meantime, a reconfiguration of LHFC will create immediate relief. Redundant spaces, such as gyms, cafeterias, library and other spaces, can be repurposed into classrooms.

The ECHS, housed on the LHFC’s second floor, would be a “school within a school” and would permit accepted students to earn high school and college credit at the same time. The four year program would save space because students would spend half their day at Richland. Up to 60 college credit hours, or two college years, could be earned, saving students and their families thousands of dollars. About 125 students are projected to join the program each year, and costs to the district will only increase if RISD agrees to furnish transportation to Richland.

Branum, who has met with groups of students, parents and teachers to discuss the proposal and collect their feedback, noted a host of benefits. Consolidating 9-12 teachers and programs into one building, for example, permits teachers to communicate with “seamless alignment.” Freshmen at LHHS would have better access to and knowledge of elective course selections.

Waggoner agreed.

“Anytime students have a transition, that’s difficult. This would be one less transition,” Waggoner said. “Our largest drop out occurs at the ninth grade level. This could keep more kids in school.”

Branum touted the benefit of inclusion for freshmen who “don’t feel a part” of activities like Homecoming and LH Favorites (though they do have dances and activities of their own). A “freshman transition program” would be added, with “junior and senior buddies” to help freshmen acclimate.

One questioner asked: Aren’t we segregating students (ECHS enrollees) who also will feel left out? The difference, Branum explained, is that moving would be their choice.

Another questioner asked: Why couldn’t we do both? (Retain a separate LHFC and host an ECHS). The answer appeared to be that both were possible.

Charles Crews, technical theatre teacher, praised the plan. When students move from one building to another, some are late or miss class altogether because campuses are on different schedules, he said.

When asked if there was room for 700 ninth graders at LHHS, Deputy Superintendent Tony Harkleroad’s answer was simple. “No.” He indicated shifting the uses of the LHFC would make the plan workable until construction enabled by bond money was completed. Construction at LHFC’s building from a future bond would be likely, he said.

In closing, Miller encouraged attendees to consider the idea. Having 9-12 in one building allows LHHS staff to build long term, lasting and trusting relationships with students, he said.

Additional meetings will be held at Forest Meadow library, Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. or LHJH library, Thursday, Oct. 23 at 6:30 p.m. After considering data, pros and cons, Dr. Waggoner will make a recommendation to RISD trustees, who will vote on the changes.

You can read my opinion about the change here.