The biggest pieces of Midway Independent School District's $148 million puzzle to accommodate brisk population growth will be in place by the start of next school year.
To make it happen, about a third of elementary school students will be drawn into a different attendance zone than they are in now.
The district is only having to build one new 750-student elementary school to make make room for 10,700 students by 2029, about 2,500 more than when voters approved the $148 million bond package in 2019. To make the math work, Midway is also expanding or renovating four other schools, doing away with intermediate schools and adjusting attendance zones accordingly.
“The main thing is addressing growth in the district, and we are doing that by realigning the grade levels to minimize the construction we needed,” district spokesperson Traci Marlin said.
The shifting attendance zones that come with the realignment have caused some issues for parents, though, said Chris Griesemer, a former graphic design and multimedia teacher at Midway High School who now is a father to a first grader at South Bosque Elementary School.
The Griesemer family's house is not being drawn into a different attendance zone, but others were not so lucky.
“For others, it's a much harder pill to swallow and there is survivor's guilt,” Griesemer said. “We were excited we get to stay at the school we are at but our good friends who are two neighborhoods over have to move (schools). None of the options favored them, showing that the lines had to be drawn somewhere. … There was an underlying tension because families needed to prioritize themselves before others. I am very glad that it’s over and I feel for people for whom it didn't work out the way they had hoped.”
The district worked over last spring into the summer to draw up options, ultimately presenting two options for input from parents and finalizing the plan about a month ago. The factors for deciding where to draw the lines for each of the eight elementary schools included proximity to residents, socioeconomic diversity, class sizes, keeping neighborhoods together and transportation concerns, Marlin said.
Compared to others, the chosen plan also keeps established neighborhoods with the same schools, favoring new developments going into attendance zones of new schools, she said.
Marlin said the process was difficult, in part because the district's schools are not perfectly distributed in a way that matches where the district's population is distributed. The goal of socioeconomic diversity also was a challenge because neighborhoods tend to cluster families of similar incomes. Planners kept an eye on each zone's share of students who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches and worked to ensure none were just below a threshold to qualify for additional federal support.
Marlin said there were strong opinions for or against certain rezoning plans, but there was no major opposition to the rezoning in general.
“It was more about whose neighborhood has to up and move and who doesn't,” she said.
Starting with the new school year, Midway will transition from six elementary schools, two intermediate schools, a middle school and a high school; to eight elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school. Elementary schools will absorb fifth grade, and middle schools will absorb sixth grade. One intermediate school will become an elementary school, and the other will become a middle school.
During a school board public input session, one mother of two South Bosque Elementary students said she is pleased with elements of the changes, even though her children will be changing schools.
Parts of South Bosque's attendance zone will shift to Woodway Elementary School, and parts will shift to Chapel Park Elementary, the converted Woodgate Intermediate. The moves will ease crowding at South Bosque and cut down on the perception that South Bosque is favored over other schools, the parent said.
“Splitting the current boundaries of South Bosque into three separate schools will ensure that the influence and affluence of this area is distributed between more Midway district elementary schools, abolishing the issue of there being only one premier elementary school,” she said.
Woodgate Principal Wes Kanawyer, who is preparing for the shift to an elementary school, said that while there was opposition during rezoning, parents handled it gracefully and there has not been much discussion about it since the process wrapped up.
“Nobody really likes change, even if it’s for the good,” Kanawyer said. “There were a lot of folks in our community that bought their homes knowing that those homes were zones for a specific elementary, so any change, even for the good, takes some adjustment and people have to process that.”
As a principal, he said he appreciated how informed parents were and that they looked and studied data trying to analyze the perceived impact.
“People wanted to do what was best for their families and remained very professional about how they made their thoughts heard,” Kanawyer said.
His school is seeing about $13 million in work as part of its conversion to Chapel Park Elementary.
“Oh we are pumped. We are going to crush it,” Kanawyer said of the change. “Woodgate Intermediate is a premier school and I have a staff of teachers who love kids and go out of their way to knock it out of the park for them and make sure every student is successful.”
Beth Ann Allison, a sixth grade reading teacher at River Valley Intermediate, said she is also looking forward to the changes, hoping to stay on as a River Valley Middle School teacher.
River Valley's $43 million expansion to a middle school will just about double its footprint.
Allison said the district's overall expansion will create needed space, and the grade realignment will move it in the direction of other Texas schools.
“The fact that they are going K-5 elementary, and then sixth, seventh and eighth grade middle school aligns more with the rest of the state so I think it will be a good change,” Allison said.
Parents' concerns about rezoning have not made it to her in the classroom, but she has heard some excitement from her students who will be making a big transition but staying in the same building, she said.
“Fifth graders will get to come back to the same building as the first sixth grade middle school class, and the sixth graders will be the seventh grade class. A lot of them were really excited about having the opportunity to come to where they went to intermediate school,” Allison said.
On the elementary level, three schools that already had the space have made the switch to hosting fifth graders, Marlin said. The early transition at Castleman Creek, Hewitt and Spring Valley means about 300 students are avoiding a one-year intermediate school stint.
To the extent possible, this year's fourth graders will be able to remain at the same school for fifth grade, even if they are drawn into a new attendance zone. Exactly how many will be able to stay will depend on enrollment for next year.
“One priority for us, as much as possible, is that we don’t have students who have to attend another school for one year and then have to go to another school for the next year,” Marlin said.
The in-district transfer policy is not changing, though, meaning students will stick to their attendance zones with few exceptions, only for specific reasons.
In addition to the new elementary school and intermediate school conversions, the other two growth-accommodating bond projects are an expansion of Midway High School's career and technical education facilities and a renovation of Midway Middle School.
All campuses will be ready for next school year, and Midway Middle School will see an additional year of construction after that, Marlin said. The additional capacity of River Valley Middle is needed before that project can get going.
“We were able to do a lot,” Marlin said. “Only one brand new construction, everything else is renovations, and we were able to do a lot to accommodate the growth.”