East Dallas’ overcrowded Lakewood and Stonewall Jackson elementary schools are under the magnifying glass in the most recent DMN story on the proposed Dallas ISD bond, which voters will consider next Tuesday, Nov. 3. The story examines some critics’ belief that overcrowded schools could be relieved with attendance boundary changes, rather than taxpayers’ dollars.
“Changing school boundaries can be controversial,” note Tawnell Hobbs and Holly Hacker, the story’s authors. “It can determine whether some families who bought their homes based on a particular school remain in the district. Often, these parents have higher incomes — ones DISD wants to lure back — and can afford to put their kids in private school or move altogether.”
The story includes a handy map that shows the 19 schools that would be replaced, expanded or newly built as a result of a voter-approved bond. East Dallas’ J.L. Long Middle School and Woodrow Wilson High School are among them, as are Sanger and Hexter elementary schools. But neither Lakewood nor Stonewall is on that map. They were two of six schools to receive additions via the DISD board’s “bridge financing” last spring — money that came from existing funds and leftover 2008 bond dollars. Both schools’ new additions already are in the works.
Despite this, the story notes that Robert E. Lee Elementary, which shares a boundary line with Stonewall, “has breathing room,” and that in 2004, Stonewall parents fought for their children to learn in portable classrooms rather than move to nearby Lee.
Craig Reynolds, a neighborhood architect who chaired the school district’s Future Facilities Task Force, which worked on the bond issue, says he would have redrawn the lines instead of building an addition.
“You have an adjoining campus there that is part of the same feeder pattern … by simply changing a boundary you could have shifted several of the students from one elementary school to another elementary school,” Reynolds says in the DMN story.
Lakewood’s shared boundary with Mount Auburn Elementary also is at issue in the story.
“Valencia Street in Hollywood Heights is lined with Tudor homes worth $300,000, $400,000 or more. Families there live in Lakewood’s attendance zone,” the story notes. “A blue sign juts out in one yard: ‘Home of a Lakewood Stallion. A neighborhood school.’ One block down and another world away is Cameron Avenue, where most homes are valued in the $50,000 to $80,000 range. They have peeling paint, torn screens and cracked steps. That street marks the edge of Mount Auburn’s attendance zone.”
Last year Trustee Bernadette Nutall suggested redrawing Lakewood’s boundary lines rather than turning Eduardo Mata Elementary into a Montessori school. Other trustees disagreed, saying that “parents at Lakewood — another National Blue Ribbon school in one of Dallas’ most affluent neighborhoods — would fight it,” the story says. Mata became a Montessori campus that draws from the neighborhood and beyond, and “some families in the Lakewood attendance zone have enrolled their kids at Mata — but it was their choice,” the story says.
“Their choice,” though it feels somewhat negative here, is exactly what the district is working toward. Tracie Fraley, who oversees Woodrow, Long and their six elementary schools, has said she wants to create a free-flow of choice schools in East Dallas that would render attendance boundaries obsolete. The concept is taking off in our neighborhood with schools like Lee, where some parents previously were hesitant to send their children, currently experiencing a turnaround.
Under Superintendent Mike Miles, DISD pledged to open 35 choice schools over the next few years, and new Superintendent Michael Hinojosa has pledged to continue that effort. Still, attendance boundaries continue to be at the forefront of the district’s efforts. Lakewood resident Bob Weiss, who in the past has served as a Dallas plan commissioner and as the chairman of DISD’s home rule commission, is now leading the district’s boundary advisory committee. The committee is studying 10-plus school boundaries and will make recommendations to the board in December, the DMN story says.
The story notes Weiss’ cognizance that “changing attendance boundaries can be contentious, so the process needs to be fair, inclusive and thoughtful.”
“You could really make life complicated for people,” Weiss says in the story. “I take it very, very seriously.”
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