Leander ISD held a pair of public forums last week on the latest version of a rezoning proposal that would shift the attendance zone boundaries for the district’s middle schools and high schools ahead of the opening of Danielson Middle School in 2020.
The district’s chief communications officer, Corey Ryan, acknowledged in a talk with parents at Henry Middle School on April 10, that the process is difficult and that many parents are struggling with the prospect of seeing their children change to a different school than they had expected.
Still, Ryan said the district has worked to provide as much information to the public as possible and to seek input from parents in crafting the final plans that will be presented to the school board for adoption in the coming weeks.
The district is currently working on Scenario D, which is a modified version of the previous rezoning scenarios presented to the community and the board of trustees. Rather than present multiple zoning options to the board during the process, the district has been continually evolving the zoning scenarios taking into account public feedback and directions from the board after the presentation of Scenario A earlier this year.
However, not everyone is happy with the process and the number of schools affected.
“The new school is way up north. Why is it affecting us?” Susan Madden asked.
Madden lives in the Buttercup Creek neighborhood that Scenario D would divide, sending children who have attended elementary school together to different middle and high schools.
“I bought my house sight unseen five years ago so that my children would go to Henry Middle School and Vista Ridge High School,” said Hope Holder. “We knew (Henry) was a great school immediately, and now we know the staff at Vista Ridge.”
With an older student already attending Vista Ridge, Holder expressed frustration that the district could force her seventh grader to move to a different high school than currently planned. She said her family has spent significant time and effort developing relationships with teachers and administration at Vista Ridge that could make her seventh-grader’s transition to high school much easier. That would be lost if Scenario D were chosen by the district's board of trustees.
For Avery Ranch resident Daryl Tripp and the dozens of his neighbors who showed up in force at the meeting wearing “Keep Avery Together” stickers, Scenario D is preferable to the previous rezoning scenarios.
Scenario B was of particular concern to Avery Ranch parents because it would split up students currently attending Rutledge Elementary and send them to either Stiles or Henry Middle School.
“We want our kids to stay with their friends,” said Tripp. “Middle school is (already) so intimidating.”
Avery Ranch parents started a petition on Change.org that reached more than 325 signatures earlier this week, and they’ve been a vocal presence at recent community input meetings.
Another point of contention for some parents, though, is Leander ISD’s use of a chat/message application, Thoughtexchange, to gather feedback and apparently make decisions on which input is considered.
At the public input meetings, attendees can log on to Thoughexchange with their computer or mobile device and provide feedback on the proposed zoning changes. District staff provides laptop computers for attendees who do not have a cell phone to use in logging onto the application.
Attendees can provide feedback in the form of comments, that other users can then ‘rate’ each comment on a scale of 1-5. Specific comments receiving the most positive feedback rise to the attention of other users as well as district staff.
Some parents expressed concern over that system, noting that it would allow the concerns of some groups of parents to override the concerns of others without the board being able to hear from everyone with an interest in the decision-making process. Others said the system was cumbersome to use, requiring an interested parent to wade through possibly hundreds of comments just to find the ones that concerned their local schools.
“It’s frustrating because you have to star (rate) every comment and not just the ones you’re interested in,” said Jenny Glover, another Buttercup Creek resident.
Spencer Weyerman, a Leander resident who attended an April 8 public input session at Running Brushy Middle School, said he felt the use of Thoughexchange suppressed public input.
“They did not allow any person there with a concern to be able to speak to the entire group,” Weyerman said, noting that different attendance zones have a different number of students affected by proposed changes. “So (that) would of course have a greater chance (of being heard) due to sheer numbers. This would in turn suppress all people from getting a point across to a school board member.”
At the April 10 session at Henry Middle School, Ryan answered a number of verbal questions raised by attendees. However, the record of comments and ratings in Thoughtexchange create a public record of feedback that can be reviewed at a later time and presented to the trustees.
“They do seem to be earnestly seeking feedback through multiple venues,” Tripp said.
Buttercup Creek parents agree that the district is making an effort to hear their concerns, though they don’t know if that will make a difference when it comes to the final decision on which groups of children could be divided as the move from elementary to middle and then to high school.
Scenario D would divide children currently attending Westside Elementary as they move into fifth grade, sending some to Henry Middle School and others to Cedar Park Middle School. A point of contention is the Scenario D dividing line near Cluck Creek Trail that would have neighbors and friends divided as they move into middle school.
Ryan told those in attendance at the April 10 meeting that redrawing attendance zones is a tough challenge, but that it is a necessity that comes with living in a high-growth school district.
Several of the middle schools and high schools are approaching or already over capacity, and the various rezoning scenarios must take into account the expected impact on future enrollment at those schools.
The district’s board of trustees will hear feedback gathered from the two public meetings on Scenario D at its April 18 meeting. A final decision on the new attendance zone boundaries is expected in May.
Watch Leander ISD's "Attendance Zoning Update" video presentation on Scenario D:
SCENARIO D RECAP:
Editor's Note: We have attached maps of each of the four current rezoning scenarios to this story. Find them on the left under "Attachments." We have also provided a copy of the document from the district that explains the enrollment considerations the district provided related to the current middle school attendance zoning project.