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As school year begins, Aldine superintendent expects best from new changes

August 19, 2018

Big changes are coming to the 67,000-student Aldine Independent School District as classes begin Monday.

Intermediate schools are a thing of the past — fifth-graders will be moved back to elementary schools and sixth-graders will move up to middle schools. Under the restructure, kindergartners will share campuses with preschoolers instead of attending elementary schools.

Attendance zones also have been redrawn, resulting in major changes to staffing and bus routes.

Six new schools will open, two existing campuses have new buildings, and others have been completely renovated. In all, 58 of the district’s 77 regular campuses will undergo what district leaders are calling a “reconfiguration.”

Discussions that spurred the changes began in 2014 and were finalized under former Superintendent Wanda Bamberg and former Deputy Superintendent Archie Blanson, who both retired from the north Houston district at the end of last school year.

Tasked with implementing the new changes is Superintendent LaTonya Goffney, who came to Aldine in May after serving stints in the East Texas school districts of Lufkin and Coldspring.

Chronicle education reporter Shelby Webb sat down with Goffney this summer to discuss the changes and her vision for the district for the 2018-19 school year, which begins Monday in Aldine. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow.

Q: What can parents expect this fall?

A: Many (schools) have been totally redone, so you can expect a safe, open learning environment.

In addition, you can expect a lot of principal changes due to the reconfiguration. So it may be a different principal, but a capable, good leader will be at your child’s school. There will be teachers there to guide your child and help them achieve.

There will be some differences with transportation because the boundaries changed, and we will work through the communication piece on that. We also want to make sure students learn the new campuses and the new leadership.

We’re preparing for the worst, but I’m expecting the best, because I’ve met with the campus leaders. We talked about moving forward and our vision for our schools and will go from there.

Some students would have already been making a change to a new school with new principals, but it will be more so this year than in many in the past. Typically, there’s not a lot of turnover in Aldine with the principalships, but this year there has been quite a bit with the reconfiguration, just a lot of movement.

Leadership changes will be good, though, because it gives you a fresh set of eyes.

Q: Boundary changes and switching grade levels are among the most controversial decisions school districts can make. What are you telling parents?

A: We’re asking parents and community members to understand that these changes were made in the best interest of our children. Please be patient with us as we iron it out.

It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be the best interest for students in the long run. My fear is everyone got out for the summer and the reality is going to kick in.

We have to get out that information now because our bus routes have changed, kids’ schools have changed. Even little things like the makeup of cheerleading squads and competitive teams for middle school are different, because middle school has changed.

Q: What benefits do you see with the new configuration?

A: The things that excite me, No. 1, is that the changes were done so well before I got here. Former Superintendent Bamberg utilized a partnership with others and was able to capitalize on planning it strategically. I think they took about a year with an outside agency to come up with the plan we’re calling reconfiguration, which I’m excited about.

Think about it: Instead of changing schools five times, our pre-K students will be at this school for pre-K and kindergarten. In the past, they were only here for one year and then went to another school. So this will give us an opportunity to align our instruction from pre-K and K and then, once they go to first grade, they go to another school, but they won’t change again until fifth grade. That gives us more time to know our kids, to know our parents and to know our community. The next move won’t be until middle school, grades six through eight, and then a ninth-grade center to prepare them to high school.

There will be fewer transitions, which means there will be fewer times starting over. You learn a system, you learn a leader, you learn the expectations.

In addition, as we look at strengthening our curriculum and instruction, those teachers are going to have more time to work together. For example, when kindergarten is on a different campus than other grades, it’s virtually impossible to coordinate with teachers on other grade levels.

The boundaries are also stronger. At some point, it got out of whack historically, but now we have stronger verticals (feeder patterns). So if I will graduate from MacArthur Senior High, there’s going to be a pathway of pre-K through kindergarten, one through five, six through eight that are all in that pattern.

Q: The staffing plan for the reconfiguration is mostly based on student enrollment numbers at each school. Will that mean fewer counselors and others at smaller campuses?

A: Of course the priority with everything going on, I strongly believe in counselors and I hope that more funding for those positions comes out of the governor’s office at some point. We’ll make sure our kids have access to counselors; we’re not in danger with that piece.

When you think about the different things that were done last year with the deficit budget, leaders were able to realign and look across the district ways to decrease personnel.

If there’s an adjustment in enrollment at a certain campus, there will also be an adjustment in staff because our budget can’t afford it. It’s a luxury we can’t afford, to have low enrollment and continue to have a high number of staff members.

Q: Could parents potentially see more changes in the weeks and months after the first day of school due to enrollment numbers?

A: I hope not. It’s definitely not a goal.

What I’m accustomed to in the past is everyone is looking and gauging and making sure the numbers are right. It wouldn’t be a school shuffle for students; it would likely be more of an internal shuffle.

If we notice enrollment is down in second grade, for example, and there are only 10 kids in a class, we may go 20 kids to a class and move that teacher to another school. So it wouldn’t necessarily impact parents. It would just impact the teachers who already have a contract. It would be moving staff to where the need is if the need is not at that particular school.

Q: What would you say to parents who are concerned with how these changes will affect their kids?

A: I totally understand. I have a 14-year-old who made cheerleader as a freshman in her previous school. Now she’s moving to a whole new school and lost her cheerleading spot because we missed tryouts.

What I told her was in life there are going to be those changes, and how you adapt to those changes is a good social skill and good soft skill to have. To be able to get new friends and go out and meet new people, those are skills that will serve them well.

What I have been assured of by colleagues and others who have gone through changes with their own personal children is that kids adjust really well. It’s the parents, the big people, who sometimes don’t.

I understand parents who have fears for their children, but I’ll say to them what’s been said to me: Kids, they adjust quicker and easier than adults. And I would assure them that on their campuses, they have principals and teachers who are prepared to love their children and educate their children.

shelby.webb@chron.com

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