Correction: An earlier version of this article erred in stating the name of the Van Alstyne Superintendent. The superintendent is John Spies.
It was standing room only at the Van Alstyne Independent School District board of trustees meeting Tuesday night. After tabling the item for several months, the board finally voted to configure the district’s new elementary school, which has yet to be built, for kindergarten through fifth grade.
“The balls been kicked down the road,” Superintendent John Spies said. “It was on the agenda two months ago, it was on the agenda last month, so it’s been kicked down the road so the decision was finally made tonight where we can finally start formulating and trying to unite everyone back together.”
The new elementary school was either going to be a pre-K through fifth grade school or a pre-K through second grade, and the former elementary school would continue to be a pre-K through fifth grade. The board voted Tuesday night to have both pre-K through fifth grade classes, with five members for and two against.
With several members of the community voicing their opinions during the public hearing, not everyone was pleased with the decision.
“I wanted it to go the other way,” Van Alstyne resident Melinda Hunter said. “… I kind of figured it was going to go the way it went. It’s not that I don’t agree – there are good points to both sides. My son’s still in elementary and he’s going to be that fifth class they don’t know what to do with yet. That bothers me the most, and if they can figure out how to make it smooth for them where they’re not switching campuses every year, then I’d be more OK with it.”
The school district will hold a bond election in May for the new elementary school. Spies explained that over the last two years the elementary school has grown at a rate of 10 percent a year. In that time the district has built on six new rooms and hired seven new teachers to help with the district’s growth. Spies understood many parents’ concerns with dividing the elementary-aged children and sending them to two different schools. Board President Randall Morgan addressed this issue during the meeting.
“The reason why everyone moves here and comes to school here is you want a small-school feel,” Morgan said during the meeting. “So I’ve tried to put myself in that place about what would that do with my kids going through elementary and going through their process and what this district is going to look like over the next 5, 10, 12 years and for me, looking over all the information and what everybody’s said … my concern is that if we were to go K-2 and have classes with 200-plus students and all that, we’d be doing just the opposite of what you’re asking for. Because I just don’t see how my kids would get to know 200 … kids. That’s just impossible to me. And that’s my biggest concern, is that we would be doing the very thing you don’t want us to do to your kid if we go that route.”
Spies agreed, pointing out that having two pre-K through fifth-grade schools would translate to fewer children per grade level, as well as a stronger relationship with teachers, principals and counselors since they would only have half the students to meet, rather than the full 100 percent of the new students the district would receive.
Even after this was brought up at the meeting, however, parents still expressed concern.
“I’m hoping that the teachers are not unhappy, because I know a lot of the teachers are against what they just decided, and I hope it doesn’t cause us to lose teachers,” Van Alstyne resident Melissa Cutherbertson said. “Even if they stay, I just don’t want them to be unhappy. And the other is how they’re ever going to … make it equal. Keeping it from becoming an us against them, or the old school vs. the new school.”
Spies said logistically, the option the board went with makes sense. He specifically cited school bus routes, since with the second elementary school the city would have to use zones.
“Twenty-five percent of our kids that are in K-2 have siblings that are in 3-5, so whether they ride the bus, the bus is going to run another 30-40 minutes a day if we separate our campuses,” Spies said. “In the morning they have to go to an additional campus and in the afternoon they have to go to another campus. We’re going to end up with 12-14 buses. You can’t load 12-14 buses on two separate campuses.”
He said while there are additional costs with having two pre-K through fifth grade campuses, there’s an ongoing cost associated with dividing the campuses.
“If I have 12 bus drivers that each are going to take another 45 minutes a day, there’s a cost associated with that,” Spies said. “If I have 12 buses that are traveling to an extra campus in the morning and in the afternoon there’s a cost associated with that. … The board did their research.”
Regardless, the decision clearly was far from easy. Board member Debbie Nance attended the meeting over Skype, and said she lost several nights of sleep over the issue.
“I just feel like taking that class and making them split up away from their friends for one year and then bringing them back together is going to do more damage than just leaving them together,” Melinda Hunter said. “But they may can fix that. They might leave them on one campus. They might leave them in the middle school another year, they might fix that, but I can’t get that question answered just yet. And it’s scary.”
Still, Hunter said, she expected the board to vote the way it did, and she said she harbors no ill feelings toward the members.
“I wish they would have just voted a month ago because then we all would have just had to deal with it, so now it’s the time to deal with it and we’re good,” she said. “I don’t not like anybody in there, and we’re all a community and we’re going to make the best of the decision that was made.”