RISD trustees: K-6 for new school on White Rock Trail

An office building currently sits on the property purchased by RISD for the new school
An office building currently sits on the property purchased by RISD for the new school

Richardson ISD will teach Kindergarten thru 6th grade at the new elementary school to be built on White Rock Trail at Walnut Hill. The alternate option, creating a 3-6 grade “annex” to White Rock Elementary, was rejected unanimously by trustees Monday night.

RISD Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone presented her recommendation at the called meeting after recapping district plans to address unrelenting enrollment growth via a two-phase plan. Phase I involves building the White Rock Trail school, investigating making Northlake a magnet school, relocating teacher daycare to White Rock Elementary and remodeling Aikin. Phase 2 features building a second school in the “crescent” area bounded by Abrams Road, Royal Lane and LBJ to alleviate crowding at Aikin, Forest Lane Academy, Stults Road, Thurgood Marshall and Wallace.

“White Rock has the immediate need,” said Stone, “since White Rock currently uses 96.2% of capacity and is projected to reach 111%. They need 10 classrooms.”

“The community is still divided on this issue,” admitted Stone as she announced her long-awaited recommendation. “There are numerous stakeholders on both sides.”

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“Over the last number of weeks, I’ve done due diligence,” she continued. “I’ve consulted other districts and other experienced educators, and the educators are not divided on this issue. Every educator I consulted with said it’s not a good idea to move away from the K-6 model.”

Benefits of K-6, she said, include articulation and support of K-6 curriculum, vertical alignment factors, and teacher collaboration and communication.

“This has been an intensive process from the beginning,” agreed Assistant Superintendent Dr. Chris Goodson. “Everyone wants what’s best for their child, and so do we.”

“The K-6 model supports the curriculum that we have right now,” he continued, “and a curriculum is only as effective as the instruction that supports it. As a former kindergarten teacher, I wanted to know what was expected of my students down the road, and to have the ability to walk down that hallway and have a meeting with 5th or 6th grade teachers helped me know that.”

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“We talked about the K-2/3-6 model in our reflector group and it was dismissed,” said Stone, referencing discussions by the group of parents, teachers and community members which generated more than 12 possible solutions for student growth, then narrowed them to two best options: building at least one K-6 school or pulling all 5th and 6th graders out of LH elementaries and constructing 5th/6th wings onto the two junior highs. RISD officials rejected the 5th/6th proposal. “Everyone talked about the strength of the K-6 model,” continued Stone. “We’re committed to the K-6 model. It is our established and proven method in the RISD.”

“We know we’re already overcrowded and more are coming,” said Justin Bono, trustee from Lake Highlands, adding that ten year demographic projections indicate an additional 4,000 students. “We’ve held 6 reflector group meetings, 4 HOA or town hall meetings, about half a dozen small meetings with neighbors in their homes, countless one-on-one coffee or lunch meetings with stakeholders and we’ve taken hundreds, if not thousands, of phone calls and emails regarding this issue.”

“Not only have we adopted one of the recommendations of the reflector group, the K-6 model,” said Bono, “we have agreed to build not one, but two schools.”

“What the community asked us to do was to deliver not just a White Rock Elementary solution, but a solution for Lake Highlands as a whole.”

“We’ve talked about viewing this decision through an instructional lens and a practical lens. There’s a big emotional lens for the community, as well,” said Jean Bono, another trustee from Lake Highlands. “Ultimately, what you hope for is that we can move forward for the benefit of all.”

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“I think it’s important, and I’ve heard from many community members both at White Rock and throughout LH, that our resulting attendance boundaries reflect diversity,” added Katie Patterson, RISD’s newest trustee. “I think we all realize the impact that can have on our students. I also think it’s important to look at the student capacity number at the new school. The piece of property we’re looking at is a unique one, and we have an opportunity to thoughtfully consider at two K-6 elementary schools what an ideal capacity would be – specifically keeping in mind that need for outdoor space.”

“The one thing that has been consistent in the White Rock area is the passion and the care for your children,” said Patterson. “I’m excited to see, once the boundaries are drawn, how the community can come together to support two fantastic K-6 schools.”

The next step, said Stone, will be work by demographers to redesign school boundaries in LH. Those plans will be delivered to RISD staff in July and presented to trustees at the August 1 board meeting. Opportunities for public input will follow.

Following the vote, trustees and staff reviewed architectural drawings of the new elementary school. RISD’s next hurdle is having the plans approved by the City of Dallas Planning Commission and City Council. Deed restrictions on the property limit what can be built there and will require city approval before construction may begin. RISD plans to open the school in August of 2018.

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