Jefferson Elementary may become alternative school, Head Start

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Jefferson Elementary may soon become the new home for Sherman Independent School District's Early Head Start program. District officials are considering using the school to replace the Perrin Learning Center as the district's alternative education campus.

Sherman's Jefferson Elementary may soon get a new lease on life. Sherman Independent School District officials said this week that the school may become the new home of the district's Early Head Start and alternative education programs when it is phased out as an elementary campus in 2021.

The district initially anticipated moving the programs into the H-Hall of the current high school. However, officials now believe that Jefferson may be a better fit.

"As we started getting in deep, we started realizing that it may not be the best fit to do this," SISD assistant superintendent of finance and operations Tyson Bennett said.

The potential move comes as a part of the 2021 transition, which will see district-wide changes related to the opening of the new Sherman High School. The new school will allow the district to reopen the current high school as a middle school, which in turn required the district to redraw coverage areas for district elementary schools and the creation of a feeder system.

These changes will coincide with district plans to expand the Head Start and pre-kindergarten programs into Perrin Learning Center, which currently houses alternative education and early head start.

Initial plans called for the programs to be moved to the H-Hall of the current high school, which will become Sherman Middle School.

"We've been talking for some time that our plan to relocate the Perrin Learning Center and also Early Head Start was to move to the H-Hall at the middle school."

However, unexpected logistical and projected challenges have surfaced that make the site unfit for this use. As more assessments have been conducted, officials said the site will be more difficult and costly to renovate than initially expected.

Bennett said much of the cost comes in the form of additional restrooms for the building. Currently, the site has 10 toilets. By comparison, Jefferson has 35 toilets.

Early estimates for the project anticipate a total cost of about $500,000 to renovate the H-Hall for this use. By comparison, Jefferson would cost just $115,000 to renovate.

Beyond the restrooms, district officials said Jefferson checks many of the boxes it would need for the programs. It is currently set up to fit elementary students and could also house high school students. The site also has an active gymnasium and cafeteria as well. Jefferson would also offer two additional classrooms and allow for a modest separation between the early head start and alternative education programs while still holding them on the same site.

Utilizing Jefferson would also free up H-Hall for additional uses. Bennett said it could be used for a new technology program or expand tech services at the middle school.

Board President Tim Millerick raised some concerns related to the long-term costs and housing the two programs at the same site. However, district officials noted that the two programs are currently together and would be at either new site.

With regard to the cost, Millerick noted a recent assessment that called for Jefferson to be phased out as an elementary campus. However, officials noted that this only applies to its life as an elementary campus.  The district planned to utilize the building once it closes, and the only question was in what capacity.

"The reason why Jefferson would be appealing in this case is we are talking a much smaller number of students who would be using the facility," SISD Superintendent David Hicks said. "We didn't intend to leave Jefferson closed; we would use it for another purpose."

Millerick expressed concerns that the older campus may have long-term costs that go beyond the $115,000 needed today. Instead, he said the district should look long-term when making this decision.