By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
BUDA – Opening a fifth middle school next year, the Hays CISD is using the opportunity to take a new approach to educating children from economically disadvantaged circumstances.
The district will basically use the new school as a magnet for the economically disadvantaged, pouring in money for smaller class sizes, better teachers and programs that have worked in other locations to improve the chances for poor children to succeed academically.
The Hays CISD school board approved attendance zones for the new school this week, moving about 220 students from Chapa Middle School, 180 from Dahlstrom Middle School and 80-90 from Wallace Middle School.
The new middle school, yet unnamed, is under construction about seven miles east of Interstate-35 on SH 150 in the far southeastern portion of the school district, taking in students from the poorest and most transient areas of the school district. The new school’s attendance zone removes the southeastern portions from the attendance zones for Wallace and Chapa. Additionally, it takes in the Green Pastures subdivision east of Buda, where students presently attend Dahlstrom.
The students being moved from Dahlstrom will continue being fed to Hays High School, while the Chapa and Wallace students being moved will go to Lehman High School.
Hays CISD Superintendent Kirk London said the new middle school will open with a capacity of 850 students, but will only hold about 500 students in the first year. The new school will especially help relieve crowding at Chapa and Dahlstrom, both of which are approaching 900 students.
“This is going to be a school with a very high number of economically disadvantaged students,” London said. “We want to keep classes small and put in specialized programs to get them ready for high school.”
The school district, which has stated a goal of reaching exceptional status under the state’s accountability ratings in 2010, often finds its average test scores compromised due to the high numbers of transients and economically disadvantaged kids living on the east side.
Among the ideas being bandied about for the new middle school are after school programs, parental involvement programs and extra stipends for well-qualified teachers who agree to work there.
“It’s really a major focus to look at best practices that have worked around the state and around the country for helping economically disadvantaged students succeed, and incorporating them here,” London said. “A lot of times, the economically disadvantaged students also have English as a second language. We need to find ways to help them succeed at a higher level.”
The new middle school will disrupt the straight feeder patterns within the school district. Presently, students from Dahlstrom and Barton Middle Schools go to Hays High School, and students from Wallace and Chapa Middle Schools go to Lehman High School. The students at the new middle school will draw from both the Hays and Lehman high school attendance zones.
“We’ll get the sixth middle school in five or six years and then go back to regular feeder patterns,” London said. “Until then, it’s really only a problem for athletics. Academically, we’re doing the same curriculum across the middle schools and the high schools.”
The school board also approved an attendance zone revision for Science Hall Elementary school, which is crowded in only its second year. About 120 students in Bent Tree Estates, Cottonwood Hollow, Creeks Landing, Oakmont Estates and the Ranch at Porter Creek will move from Science Hall to Tobias Elementary School next year. Bilingual students will remain at Science Hall Elementary School.
The school board also decided that students who will live in an apartment complex just west of Interstate-35 in Buda will attend Tom Green Elementary on the school district’s east side. The apartment complex, which is under construction, actually is in the Buda Elementary School district. No students presently live in the apartments, but they will go to Tom Green as they move in to balance enrollments.
The attendance zone changes are based on recommendations by the district’s Growth Impact Committee, composed of local citizens. Students affected by the attendance zone decisions who wish to remain at the school they attend this year may do so under a transfer contract. All transfer students must provide their own transportation.