The Sherman Independent School District is collecting feedback on proposed changes to school attendance zones scheduled to take place in 2020 and 2021. The district has been holding a series of meetings to allow parents and families to see the changes before they go before the school board for approval next month.
With three public hearings left, the school board held a workshop Monday afternoon to discuss the changes and get direct feedback and an update on the progress of drafting the new zones.
“Any time you change attendance zones it is going to be a very personal change for some people and families,” SISD Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Facilities Tyson Bennett said.
The new attendance zones are one piece of the district’s Transition 2020 plan, which will encompass changes throughout the district on all grade levels. The upcoming school year will mark a moment of change for the district as it opens a new high school.
This will have a domino effect throughout the district with the current high school transitioning into the district’s second sixth-through-eighth middle school and fifth grade transitioning to the elementary-school level.
With the changes in secondary schools, Dillingham Intermediate will convert into an elementary school and serve as the primary school for much of eastern Sherman. This will primarily impact Sory, Neblett and Crutchfield Elementary schools. Dillingham will absorb nearly all of the Jefferson Elementary attendance zone as it has been proposed that the campus close.
While Dillingham’s coverage area will be among the largest in the district, Bennett said much of the coverage area is lightly populated. However, these remote areas have access to major roadways that will provide easy access, he said.
With the new attendance map, the district is attempting to lower all of its schools to below capacity while creating a straight-forward path between the elementary school and the middle schools — Piner Middle School and the currently unnamed Sherman middle school. District officials are also working to create natural boundaries and assess and adjust the demographics to create inclusive schools.
The changes to the attendance zones will be staggered, with the changes on the middle-school level proposed to begin in 2020, and the proposed changes to elementary zones to go into effect the following year. This was designed to give some space between the major changes taking place and give parents more time to adjust and prepare for the changes at the elementary level. The changes would also immediately address capacity issues in the middle schools, Bennett said.
One of the parents who has raised concerns about the changes in attendance zones is Hannah Martin, whose daughter Ella currently is in the second grade at Sory. Martin said when she moved into her current home, located about a quarter mile from Sory, its proximity to the school was a part of the decision.
“We knew when we were choosing a home that we wanted to stay in Sory,” she said.
Ella has always been proud of her school and often shows it off to friends and family as they pass by, Martin said. Ella has even asked for a pet husky, the mascot of Sory Elementary. Still, Martin said her daughter was somewhat aware of the discussions that are taking place.
“She is very aware,” Martin said. “When I had to go to the community meeting, she would ask why I was going to her school.”
With the transition and rezoning, Martin said her daughter will enter in the fourth grade at Wakefield Elementary. She now worries that the change will be difficult for her daughter as few to none of her classmates and friends will be making the same transition with her.
“They (kids) are resilient, and I am sure my daughter will be OK, but we shouldn’t have to go through this just because of a zoning change,” she said.
Martin questioned the district’s transfer policies, which she said unfairly favored out-of-district transfers over families who live within the district. Currently, Sory has 27 out-of-district students who attend the school.
While in-district transfers require criteria including safety and health reasons among others, out-of-district students have their own criteria for consideration. These include previous relationships with the district and prior discipline issues, Bennett said.
Martin said she would like to see reforms to the district’s policy on transfers or having current students grandfathered to allow them to stay with their current schools until they transition to the next school level. Bennett said both ideas have been considered, but no definitive ideas or plans have been discussed.
The district plans to hold three public meetings to discuss the changes this week. District officials will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Neblett Elementary, at Crutchfield Elementary Wednesday and Piner Middle School Thursday. Following public input, the school board is expected to vote on approving the changes on Dec. 16, officials said.