Rachel Adele Robillard Multimedia Journalist
Students in the Lewisville Independent School District are being treated unequally due to the imbalanced student distribution in the middle schools. In October 2012, the District’s School Board and Boundary Committee proposed rezoning for elementary and middle school boundaries in order to rebalance the student population and attendance at LISD middle schools, which are within a five-mile radius. The goal is to achieve better learning and technology in the classrooms.
Located in Denton County, Texas, LISD is a public school district with more than 50,000 students, and has doubled in growth since 1991. LISD’s McKamy and Shadowridge middle schools in Flower Mound, have been classified as over-populated for the last several school years, while LISD’s Forestwood Middle School has been under-populated.
“This has become a very hot and emotional topic,” Principal Sonya Lail of Flower Mound High School said.
This topic has caused tension between east side and west side parents. Michael Brown, a parent from the west side, is concerned in the inconvenience of the proposal and how the west side is not being represented accurately. On the other hand, Liz and Joseph Perez, parents from the east side, are concerned of the fairness and safety issues without the proposal. West side represents McKamy and Shadowridge, while Forestwood represents the east side.
In October 2012, LISD administrators created an elementary and middle school Boundary Committee with the purpose of researching and developing scenarios that would balance the student population at the nine elementary and three middle schools, which are feeder schools to Flower Mound High School. According to the LISD website, McKamy and Shadowridge have a 105 percent student population rate, while Forestwood has a 60 percent rate. To represent each school, the 24-member Boundary Committee is made up of two parents from each of the 12 FMHS feeder schools.
The Boundary Committee was assigned to draft two rezoning proposals then agree on one final proposal to give to the LISD School Board in April. Some people in the community are not satisfied with the redistricting proposals since it would affect the majority of their neighbors and own children. For instance: those who are in the middle school's walking distance will have to commute to a different school approximately four miles away within the district’s boundaries. In specific, students living in the Wellington neighborhood, located next to McKamy Middle School, will have to commute across town to Shadowridge Middle School.
A parent from the Wellington neighborhood, Michael Brown, is head of “Rethink the Rezone” and father of four students who attend LISD schools. Since his children will have to commute across town to a different school, he is not fond of how the committee was established and it proposed.
“The power wielded in this committee was not proportionate to the population of the kids. Vickery Elementary has 70 students with two representatives while Wellington Elementary has 900 students and also has two representatives,” Brown said.
Once Brown was aware of what was going on in his community, his immediate focus was to stop this “horrid process”. Thus, he began to attack the process and created a group called Rethink the Rezone. With more than 15,000 people viewing the website and 900 signatures on the petition, it is clear that Rethink the Rezone received resounding support. “We have to derail the train from the tracks before we can guide it somewhere favorable,” Brown stated.
Out of nine elementary schools, three elementary schools (Old Settlers, Liberty and Wellington) have 54 percent of the student population. Brown and the Rethink the Rezoning supporters argued that the representatives are outnumbered since the representative to student population ratio is not represented adequately.
Therefore, Brown’s approach with Rethink the Rezone was claiming that “the process has been flawed” and a disruption is needed since the boundary committee members’ meetings turned into east side versus west side arguments. Brown said that the representatives from the east side took a hardball political standpoint while the west side representatives, which he supports, took a more sympathetic approach to the issue.
“We created a ruckus in a hurry. Our first victory was when the LISD School Board told the Boundary Committee to send in two proposals instead of only one,” Brown said.
Even though Brown has created petitions and support groups for the rezoning policies, he is in full support of rebalancing the school districts. Similarly, Joseph and Liz Perez, the parents of two LISD students on the east side, attending Forestwood Middle School, also support rebalancing the middle schools.
“We need to look at the greater good of balancing the opportunities for all of the LISD kids,” Liz Perez, stated.
According to the LISD Website, McKamy, Shadowridge and Forestwood all have exemplary ratings academically. However, fine arts, languages and sports at Forestwood are lacking due to the decrease of students and teachers. Based on the Forestwood website, the electives and extra curricular activities do not compare to those at McKamy and Shadowridge. This is because there are not enough staff members; teachers are teaching multiple grades and/or classes since Forestwood cannot afford to hire more teachers. Without the student capacity filled, it is difficult to have the teacher capacity filled.
“When middle schools are not meeting the needs for their students, how are students expected to compete in high school? Excellence is average at Flower Mound High School. You have to be extraordinary to compete,” Liz Perez said.
Liz Perez admits that the biggest benefit with rebalancing middle schools is that all feeder school students will be on the same level when they attend FMHS. In addition, the safety of the kids will be up to par with the new proposal.
Currently, nine portables surround McKamy’s campus since there are not enough class spaces. Students venture from class to class, inside to outside. In addition to over capacity, security is another issue that led to the decision to rebalance.
“If you were a crazy person like the Sandy Hook guy, are you going to go to the school with a locked door or are you going to go to a portable?” asked Liz Perez.
There has not been an unsafe incident regarding the portables, but Liz Perez said she does not want to wait until a problem happens. However, Liz Perez also recognizes the hardships people will have to go through if the rezoning to rebalance takes place.
“I do not blame them for not wanting to move. They do not want to leave their neighborhood, leave the school that is closer to them, and be bussed across 2499, which is our main street that is already congested with traffic,” Liz Perez said.
Liz Perez not only looks at the situation from her standpoint, but also from those who will be greatly affected. If the school board does not approve the proposal, there will be no drastic commuting efforts. In addition, the small class sizes at Forestwood will stay the same.
“There are empty classes, so the student to teacher ratio is lower, which is great. There are 15-20 students in a class at Forestwood, while McKamy has about 30 students to a class,” Joseph Perez said.
Joseph Perez expands by stating that the small class sizes at Forestwood allow students to have more individualized attention, which is a positive aspect of the current situation. On the other hand, the larger classes at McKamy will continue to not have as much individualized attention, or extra space to support computer technology.
“In my class, I have 27 filled desks, so I have no room for technology or anything else. I have my own laptop and that is it. I would like to allow my students to learn with technology, but I can’t because I do not have the room,” said Linda Snow, seventh and eight grade Spanish teacher at McKamy Middle School.
From technology to safety, and class size to commuting, the redistricting to rebalance proposal has caused an education controversy in the LISD community.
The Boundary Committee met on Feb. 27 to come up with a new, single proposal, which is tolerable in both Liz and Joseph Perez and Brown’s eyes. The next committee meeting will be held on March 18, which will be the last day for the community to speak on its behalf and be involved. On April 18, the LISD School Board will vote on the proposal.
If the rezoning proposal is approved, it will take effect in the fall 2013. Technically, the rezoning would be in full effect in three to four years since students will have the opportunity to be “grandfathered” into a school if they have older siblings attending the school.
“In the end, it is about keeping Flower Mound High School strong and exemplary, so we need to focus on rebalancing then rezoning,” Liz Perez said.