After a week of receiving input from the community overwhelming against moving 9th graders to the high school, Richardson ISD Superintendent Dr. Kay Waggoner announced Friday her intent to delay the decision.

“We have heard consistent feedback that the Freshman Center is a valued and important part of the Lake Highlands community,” Waggoner said in the weekly RISD email. “I’m not comfortable making any recommendation to our Board regarding how to address secondary growth in Lake Highlands until more time can be taken, in concert with parents and other stakeholders, to evaluate the issues involved and determine what course of action is best for students in Lake Highlands.”

The email indicated that a committee will be formed comprised of parents and other stakeholders to study the topic. The issue is part of the district’s larger plan to address growth in secondary enrollment, to plan for new career and technology courses required by the state, and to consider options such as an Early College High School, which would allow students to save time and money by enrolling in a dual-credit program affiliated with Richland College.

Parents and former students I spoke with said they were relieved their voices were heard.

“I’m glad they listened to the community,” said Kelley Huebner, daughter of a current 8th grader. “I think it’s a good thing they’re taking a step back and doing more research. I don’t think they can just take a huge chunk of 9th graders and shove them into the main building.”

“As a parent who has had two children go through the Freshman Center and one who will be a freshman in three years, I prefer they keep the freshmen in their own building,” agreed Holly Smith. “I recognize that having all four grades in one building will alleviate some administrative headaches, but I don’t feel the unique educational and emotional development of 9th grade students should be placed secondary to the administrative benefits a move would create.”

“I’m pleased that the administration listened to the concerns of the people and that they plan to more fully examine the situation, consider alternatives, and solicit more feedback from constituents,” said Kari Urban, mom of a 5th grader, a 10th grader and a high school graduate. “Many people voiced concerns that LHFC was unfairly tagged with the higher dropout rate and encouraged the district to look at the junior highs, since the students need to be supported and encouraged from that point forward. It is at the Freshman Center that students are legally allowed to drop out. We need to catch them and intervene way before that.”

“My year spent in the Freshman Center is one I cherished deeply,” said Jenny Wolff, LHHS grad in 2009. “Students would miss out on the opportunities to bond as a class if the Freshman Center is replaced. The LHFC also provides students opportunities to step into leadership roles and find their niche before entering the big school. I’m worried that students in future classes might slip through the cracks if they are uncomfortable expressing themselves in a school of 3000 students.”

“I do think the students should be provided with the opportunity to earn more college credit,” continued Wolff, referring to ECHS, “but I do not think that program should replace the Freshman Center.”

Lynn Strawn Davenport graduated from LHHS in 1989 lives in LH with her husband and 3 children. Her “Save the Freshman Center” Facebook page, created last week, received more than 500 likes in its first 4 days.

“The Freshman Center was years in the making from inception to construction,” explained Davenport. “We believe it was a wise decision to delay the deconstruction. As creator of the Save the Freshman Center FB page, the misconception is that we are against a comprehensive 9-12 model and against CTE [career and technology education] and early college programs. Quite the contrary. We know that the 9-12 model works for other parts of the district. We know that the existing CTE/CATE programs are effective and we know we have many at-risk students in LH. We also know that for many residents, the beloved Freshman Center restored confidence in the public high school. Growth in LH can be partially attributed to the construction of the LHFC. We need to take that into consideration.

“Stakeholder meetings are much appreciated. Will we vote? Regardless of the outcome, these discussions have brought our community together to discuss important issues that impact all of us. My hope is that our residents will continue to be engaged.”

Dr. Waggoner indicated that details about the stakeholder committee will be forthcoming, and no decision or recommendation will be made to trustees before that committee has completed its work and shared its findings.