The Sherman Independent School District board of trustees continued planning for the 2020 transition, including the opening of the new Sherman High School, Monday afternoon with a workshop session over school attendance zones. The next school year will see significant changes to the district, including the repurposing of multiple campuses and reintegration as a three-tier school system.
With the opening of the new high school, the current campus will be restructured to serve as the district’s second middle school, while Dillingham Intermediate School will be converted into an elementary school. Under these changes, elementary schools will extend from kindergarten to fifth grade, with middle school running from sixth through eighth grade.
With the changes, the district is faced with many questions ranging from how best to split up the district population between campuses to how much faculty will be needed with the new configuration.
“One of the challenges we have is that Dillingham and Neblett (Elementary School) are right next to each other,” Rocky Gardiner, vice president of Templeton Demographics, said. “We are talking about 1,500 student capacity all pretty close to each other. So we are going to have to expand those boundaries quite a ways to properly utilize those campuses. We have to populate two campuses that are right next to each other — I am not going to sugarcoat that.”
Board member Brad Morgan asked whether there had been any consideration into making Dillingham into a large elementary school with near capacity and using Neblett as a replacement for the aging Fred Douglass Early Education Center. Morgan said that facility is nearing the end of its useful life, and the district should look at options to replace it in the future. Currently, Fred Douglass houses the district’s Head Start and pre-kindergarten programs.
“The answer to your question is that we are looking at all options for using our space for unique programs or even programs we do not offer currently,” Superintendent David Hicks said. “The challenge will be doing that at an elementary, because we need all of those seats at the elementary, but we may be able to do it by splitting of space from the middle school campus or high school campus.”
Gardiner said one of the options in drawing districts would be to create neighborhood schools with districts drawn in a way to keep students in the same neighborhood at the same nearby school. Gardiner said this could be difficult as some students live in remote areas that are distant from the nearest campus.
With the addition of Dillingham as a new elementary school, Gardiner estimated the district will have capacity for about 4,000 students. However, growth projections for the next decade put demand near that capacity, he said.
“In our bond elections and starting with the strategic plan and the Building Bearcats committee and then the actual election, we as a community took steps to address space at the secondary level,” Hicks said. “But in the bond package there was nothing to address additional seats at the elementary level.”
Another point of conversation was focused on how the district distributes students entering the middle school level. One option would separate the students based on their location, while another would create feeders based on the elementary school.
“Feeders are great if you can make them work,” Gardiner said. “The biggest challenge is once you have them in place, if you have to break it, there is a lot of going on and a lot of heartache.”
Gardiner said he would continue work through the summer with the goal to present plans to the board members this fall. From there, he said he would like the board to endorse the plan as it is presented to the public.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @mhutchinsHD on Twitter.