In the (School) Zone

If it is June, then it is time to hang out! School is out for summer. It is time to unwind and slow the pace down a little. We are generally free to take vacation, lounge by the pool and drink lemonade in the shade. Mostly, it is a break for parents and kids — a time for enjoying the absence of alarm clocks buzzing at 6 a.m., announcing the time to wake sleepy kids and begin the frenetic pace of rushing to the bus stop or school. 

Yet, for some Frisco parents, the summer break may be a time to do a lot more than just buy a new backpack before the upcoming school year. They are preparing to request that the Frisco ISD let their child, or children, attend the same schools as the year before. Beginning next month, through the beginning of August, more than 50 families in southeast Frisco will be faced with the choice of moving their children to new schools or requesting to keep them in schools they already have attended because, for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year, nearly 300 FISD school children will be re-zoned. 

Each year, the FISD looks at zoning in an effort to relieve overcrowding and balance enrollments in existing schools, as well as draw attendance zones for any new schools opening the following year. Much of Frisco’s current re-zoning stems from the decision to delay the opening of four new schools in Frisco, including Memorial High School, Lawler Middle School, Tally Elementary School and Liscano Elementary School. District officials say the district’s plans to open the schools changed last year when voters rejected a 13-cent property tax increase in August for maintenance and operations. 

The district, which has about 56,000 students, notified families in re-zoned districts that their children will be moving to new schools. A total of 306 students are projected to be impacted by the re-zoning changes, including students who are currently enrolled or anticipated to enroll next school year. That includes 227 elementary school students, 40 middle school students and 39 high school students. The district says it is unclear yet how many families will request to stay in their current school. High school is the one exception to requests to stay in a school a child has already attended; those requests will be automatically denied. The district will automatically re-zone high school kids when it deems necessary, citing diverse and specialized allocation of staffing at high school campuses, building capacities and University Interscholastic League (UIL) considerations. 
Dr. Todd Fouche, the deputy superintendent for business services for FISD, says re-zoning is not something anyone looks forward to, but it is necessary. “It is important to understand that some FISD schools are experiencing declining enrollment, while others experience growth. The district will conduct an in-depth efficiency study of building capacity and facility usage prior to re-zoning this fall for the 2018-2019 school year. Long-term considerations will involve the ability to put off future construction as long as possible and prepare for the eventual build-out of the district. Cleaning up feeder patterns where possible will also be part of this review, which will examine attendance zones across the district as a whole and set the stage for a larger-scale re-zoning effort this fall. We anticipate this effort will impact far more families than re-zoning for 2017-2018, as we will also be drawing attendance zones for the four new schools.”

Dr. Fouche concedes that changing schools is an emotional issue for everyone involved. Ryan Gregg, a father of three children living near the Hillcrest Road area that is impacted by the re-zoning, fought hard to change the district’s decision. Mr. Gregg says when he first learned about the re-zoning plans in November 2016, he gathered people in his neighborhood and put together more than 100 signatures to support a request to not re-zone in his neighborhood. However, their efforts failed and they were re-zoned by the first week in January 2017. Mr. Gregg, who says he chose to raise his children in Frisco primarily for the great reputation of its schools, was disappointed. “I was floored, honestly. We have been in our house less than three years, and live less than one mile from the school. I felt, and feel, very frustrated to have moved here for great schools, only to be re-zoned to a lower ranking school so quickly after moving here,” he shares. “Our kids’ education played the most important part in why we chose to live where we live. To have that changed so suddenly felt like a real blow.”

Mr. Gregg says he understands the district’s challenge in meeting the needs of a growing population, but thinks the board did not seriously consider changing their plans because of the petition. “I went to speak at the school board meeting to oppose the re-zone and heard from many other parents from so many other neighborhoods protesting their own re-zonings. Once I saw the large amount of people facing the same situation our neighborhood was facing, I knew the school district would not be moved by our opposition and would move forward with the re-zone. They said it themselves: Frisco is the fastest-growing school district in the state. I do not think they can keep up with the needs of so many individuals at the rate they are growing. Dealing with the district felt less like dealing with a locally-owned business and more like dealing with a corporation.”

Mr. Gregg says he and his children have had nothing but great experiences at their current school and are sad to be asked to leave. He says he is even considering moving out of Frisco. “My wife and I commute a long way to work, but we feel it is worth it for our kids to go to a great school. Now that we have been re-zoned to a lower-ranking school, it just does not feel worth it to make the longer commute, if we are not going to be at a school at the level we thought we were when we moved here,” he says. “We are considering moving to someplace with more established school zones that will have less chance of constantly changing. The school we are currently at is not even at capacity, so we do not understand their need to re-zone our small neighborhood.”

Parents like Mr. Gregg have argued that not all schools in Frisco are created equal. Some children attending higher-performing schools are being re-assigned to schools which have lower achievement rates for students. One of the schools identified as part of the re-zoning plan where many students will be assigned in the upcoming school year, is Christie Elementary. Christie has a slightly lower test score by grade standard than other schools in the district. Children attending Christie, due to the re-zoning, would be leaving Gunstream Elementary, which has higher test scores by grade. The district says all FISD schools offer the same quality academics and equitable programming and opportunities for students. “Our guiding principle is to provide the best and most equitable opportunities for all children. Schools within the district have the same general class sizes, the same general curriculum and comparable facilities. Although the philosophies of the instructional leaders may differ slightly, the same programs are provided throughout the district and guarantee a quality education at all campuses,” says Dr. Fouche.

Stay updated! For additional details and more information regarding this much-debated topic, go to friscoisd.org.

Lisa Dawson is a full-time working mom of three, a freelance writer and a Frisco resident.