The theme for education in 2018 in Grayson County seemed to be “new beginnings.”
For the Sherman Independent School District, it was all about moving forward with plans to construct a new high school. The Denison Independent School District joined Sherman ISD and others in developing new security protocols, including hiring of police officers to serve in the schools.
Austin College added a new competitive gaming club to bring the fascinating world of esports to the area. Grayson College expanded its campus, including the completion of the Advanced Manufacturing Lab, designed to prepare students for the future.
New Sherman High
Sherman ISD voters approved the construction of a new campus in late 2017 that has been the central topic of several school board meetings throughout the year. The project has also influenced the city’s economic development and infrastructure plans. Sherman ISD Superintendent David Hicks said the high school is set to open for classes in August 2020 and will include classrooms, career and technology education spaces, athletic and art facilities, and a large outdoor courtyard.
“It’s exciting because of the impact that the school will have on the entire community, certainly on the educational experiences of our students for generations to come, but also through the economic impact that the construction of a school this size has on the community,” Hicks said during a groundbreaking ceremony for the school in October.
The superintendent said Sherman ISD began a facilities study in 2016 and quickly realized that a new high school was one of the district’s most pressing needs. With the help of publicly-staffed design committees, Sherman ISD assembled and proposed a $308 million bond package in May 2017, which included money for a new high school and improvements for numerous campuses. The initial package failed by a margin of just 155 votes, but the district regrouped and returned in November 2017 with a slimmed-down, $176 million bond for a new high school and district-wide technology upgrades, which voters ultimately approved.
While getting a new high school is certainly important to taxpayers and students alike, one story that affected several campuses was a renewed interest in school security. Several area school districts, including Sherman, Denison and Whitesboro, added school resource officers assigned to those respective areas.
“We’ve been working on this for the last several months, ever since what happened in February and then again in Texas, in order to strengthen our school security,” DISD Superintendent Henry Scott said, referring to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe. The shooting in Florida claimed the lives of 17 students and teachers, while another 10 people were killed in Santa Fe nearly three months later.
School security took on other forms as policies were also changed. Threats were taken to new levels of seriousness as students began facing consequences, including criminal charges in some cases as reactions to violence in other parts of the country.
School security wasn’t the only issue troubling districts. In August, public schools received their first letter grades issued by the state of Texas as part of its new accountability ratings.
The Denison Independent School District was given a “B” grade, while the Sherman Independent School District received a “C.” The Bells Independent School District and Van Alstyne Independent School District each received “A” grades. The Gunter Independent School District, Howe Independent School District, Pottsboro Independent School District, S&S Consolidated Independent School District, Whitesboro Independent School District and Whitewright Independent School District all received “B” grades. The Collinsville Independent School District received a “C” grade and the Tom Bean Independent School District received an “F” grade.
The new grades reflect the 2017-2018 academic year and are based upon students’ scores on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, graduation rates, post-secondary readiness, academic growth and districts’ ability close student performance gaps. The release of the grades prompted superintendents from Sherman ISD and Denison ISD to issue statements about their grades and their criticisms of the system.
When it comes to firsts, the Advanced Manufacturing Program received a major boost when the Sherman Economic Development Corp. teamed up with area Chambers, school districts, and local non-profits to bring about a new way to get students involved in the program. The contest was created as a way to get students hands-on experience interacting with local employers in the manufacturing fields. A last minute come-from-behind donation put the smallest school of the bunch, Whitesboro ISD, to the forefront to take the winning trophy. The program highlighted the need to bring people to the area to fill the manufacturing jobs the area has an abundance of as workers begin preparing for retirement.
Grayson College held a ribbon cutting last spring to unveil the Advanced Manufacturing Lab, its new facility on campus devoted to the program. Students are able to get hands on experience in the skills they need to pursue the technologically advanced careers at local manufacturers.
Austin College joined in the technology revolution by implementing the first iteration of its new “esports” program, a competitive video game team organized as a club students can join to participate in the evolving technology world. Arlington is currently constructing one of the world’s largest esports arenas, giving the Austin College esports teams something to work towards.
New approach to preschool
Another new beginning for Sherman was the recent opening of the new MasterKey Ministries preschool. Executive Director Julie Rickey said the new school, which is located at 600 S. Dewey Ave. in Crutchfield Heights Baptist Church, is the realization of a dream that began five years ago. The preschool program is targeting underprivileged children who are entering the public school system at a disadvantage to their peers.
“We discovered a lot of students had major gaps,” Rickey said. “Over time we started developing a reputation of being able to help these kids. We discovered many of these students didn’t have any early childhood education. Sherman ISD (Independent School District) can accommodate 295 students. There are over 700 low income children between the ages of 3-4 in Sherman — that leaves a gap of 400 students who do not get access to a preschool program.”
The theme of new beginnings continues as 2018 came to a close. As always a new year brings all sorts of new possibilities. As students are the very embodiment of the future, it is expected they will continue to be the central focus of new technologies, new methods of learning and and spreading new ideas to society.