The emotionally charged issued of rezoning is coming to a head this week.
When Vanesia Johnson saw the proposed recommendations for the Elementary 51 she was pleased with the decision of the Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Charles Dupre. She sat on the focus group. She said she was the only Title One parent on the group and said she felt heard as a parent in an underutilized school that also catered to bilingual and special needs students.
The west side mother grew concerned, however, when she saw the superintendent’s recommendations for the high schools on the east side of the district that did not include feeding more students into underutilized Thurgood Marshall High School.
“There is a grave injustice perpetuated on the east side and no one is brave enough and bold enough. This was their moment. When I saw Option 1 I thought, have we arrived? It was a social justice moment. But they (school leaders) didn’t take it and Marshall got pimped,” said Johnson.
During community sessions last month the district explored four options and asked for public input via surveys. The district extended the surveys to Jan. 5 to accommodate the holiday season. Six days later, Dupre announced the decision that was previously expected to be made in February.
On Monday night Dupre was expected to recommend a hybrid of options two and three for the board to consider. The Monday night meeting occurred after the Star deadline but the board was expected to discuss the recommendations and make a decision to vote on the recommendations at the Jan. 22 meeting.
The decision on the high school was initially expected to occur in February, but at 9 p.m. Friday, Dupre sent out an apologetic email to parents and posted on the FBISD page that they had enough input to make a decision. The email was also posted on the district website.
The district is trying to balance high school enrollment in the southeast portion of the district where Ridgepoint High School is overcrowded and Marshall and Willowridge high schools are underutilized.
The changes would begin in the fall of 2019 where students entering ninth grade would begin a four-year phase-in of the new boundaries. Students entering 10th, 11th, and 12th grade in the 2019-20 school year would be eligible to remain at their current high school without district-provided transportation.
Dupre said the feedback showed a community desire for minimal changes in the short term prior to the planned construction of a new high school in the southeast side of the district that was included in the 2018 bond.
“We also recognize that the challenges associated with the boundary planning process have caused a great deal of anxiety, and because the community’s desires were so clear, we were able to formulate a recommendation faster than originally anticipated,” Dupre wrote.
Summary of recommended changes:
• The current Schiff Elementary School zone will feed through Baines Middle School into Hightower High School instead of Ridge Point High School.
• The portion of Heritage Rose Elementary School that currently feeds to Baines Middle School (areas off or north of Highway 6) will feed through Baines into Hightower instead of Ridge Point.
• Parks Elementary School will continue to feed through Lake Olympia Middle School and then into Willowridge High School instead of Hightower.
• The area currently zoned to Palmer Elementary School north of Lake Olympia Parkway and east of Community Park will be zoned through McAuliffe Middle School to Willowridge instead of Hightower. This area is currently being developed.
Citing community feedback, Dupre noted that Quail Valley and Lake Olympia expressed a strong desire to stay at Elkins. The Sienna community wanted to stay at Ridge Point. Hightower High School wanted to keep the Medical Science Academy at Hightower. Schiff Elementary School wanted Elkins over Hightower, and Parks wanted to remain at Hightower.
According to the district, option one would have:
• Balanced Utilization and Enrollment among the five schools over the next 9 years without any school exceeding 100 percent of utilization of design capacity.
• Moved large groups of students to avoid small, isolated cohorts.
• Provided the highest utilization of Marshall and Willowridge throughout all options.
• Positioned the boundaries so that most of the future growth is pointed to Hightower.
Dupre wrote that by choosing the hybrid option he was following the largest and loudest voices from Quail Valley and Sienna.
“There was an overall theme on the importance of keeping communities together,” he said. “Sienna responders suggested moving people new to the community to Hightower while High School 12 is constructed and utilize portable buildings at Ridge Point High School while High School 12 is constructed. Overall, the responses indicated a desire to select the plan that resulted in the least disruption.”
Stakeholders indicated High School 12 were promised in the bond and there were many suggestions to expedite building the campus.
For Marshall PTO president Stephanie Brown, she said she felt her school was ignored.
“Why did we not receive any students in the rezoning plan that Dr. Dupre sent out at 9 p.m.? We did not expect to receive all of Quail Valley schools, just those areas which are closer in proximity that the district rezoned several years ago without our knowledge. For example, Quail Green South and the Woods, down the street from Marshall,” said Brown.
She attended the zoning meeting the first night at Marshall when the rezoning options were introduced. Some visiting parents wondered why more Marshall parents were not in attendance. Brown said the high school had just learned of a tragedy with the death of a popular high school athlete and many parents were at home consoling their children. That same day, counselors had been on campus trying to help students get through the day.
“I was surprised the district didn’t cancel the meeting,” said Brown.
The district is expected to announce an early college program that would allow Marshall students to earn an associate’s degrees without paying tuition. Brown said Marshall parents were not part of the discussion, making them wary.
Brown said she has seen the district leaders pillage and ignore Marshall so much over the years that even an idea of an early college credit program in the high school seems suspect to her. She said there was no community involvement in the decision-making process as was displayed at the other two campuses.
“We also don’t have a clear answer on who represented Marshall on the steering committee as no one will take ownership for helping to make the decision to place an early college at Marshall,” Brown said.
During the rezoning talks, there was much angst from parents learning their children could be rezoned to Marshall. Parents cited concerns calling Marshall an underperforming school.
“I don’t call it underperforming,” said Brown. “I call it under-resourced. In 2009-2010 we were a recognized campus. Tell me why the district didn’t build on that instead of taking away teachers and programs.”