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Spring ISD strategizes to retain middle school enrollment

December 28, 2018

Spring ISD will revamp its middle schools to retain more students who are opting to attend schools outside of the district.

Among parents’ chief concerns are safety, smaller class sizes, and more academic programs, said Tiffany Dunne-Oldfield, chief communications officer for the district.

“(You’re) sending your kids from an elementary where they’re very kind of protected — you know they walk down the hallway with their teacher — to this open middle school environment,” she said.

Based on a school quality survey for the 2017-2018 school year, about 60 percent of parents rated the district’s middle schools as excellent or good, while elementary schools were at 83 percent.

To obtain feedback, the district conducted eight listening sessions in September and October with parents whose children attend fourth and fifth grade.

“We have seen a trend where our elementary students, our parents of elementary children, from fifth grade to sixth grade were choosing to opt out,” chief academic officer Lupita Hinojosa told the board of trustees.

Data collected on Spring ISD middle schools since the 2012-2013 school year indicates about 5 percent, or between 77 to 140 students, opt out of Spring ISD’s middle schools each year after completing elementary school.

Instead, parents are seeking other options and enrolling their children elsewhere instead of in the district’s current seven middle schools.

“Primarily, that could be charter schools,” Dunne-Oldfield said.

The major charter organizations that have moved into the Houston area are KIPP, YES Prep, Harmony Public Schools and, most recently, International Leadership of Texas.

Currently, about 6 percent of students across the state attend charter schools.

One of the strategies Spring ISD is rolling out to prevent losing more students is to implement two new middle schools with specialized programs.

Spring ISD’s middle schools currently house approximately 900 to 1,300 students, according to enrollment figures from the 2017-2018 school year by the Texas Education Agency.

The district will be addressing class sizes in the new campuses it plans to open next year.

“We heard from parents that they want more academic vigor in the classroom, so that was one of the things. Smaller learning environments. One of the things that our parents want is more choice,” Dunne-Oldfield said.

Currently, only Roberson Middle School, which is being rebuilt in a new location, offers a specialized program in science, math and fine arts, to which students can apply for admission and are chosen by lottery.

The new middle school 8, which is under construction, will be named Springwoods Village Middle School and offer an International Baccalaureate program for up to 800 students when it opens in 2019.

Once the current Spring Early College Academy moves to Lone Star College-North Harris, the building will be converted into another middle school that will focus on leadership.

The new school will be named Spring Leadership Academy and will be the smallest campus with up to 400 students who will be chosen based on a lottery system.

Another concern parents raised during the listening sessions was campus safety, Dunne-Oldfield said.

“When they were talking about safety, a lot of the time they were talking about bullying,” she said.

In October, the district launched an online bullying reporting tool to investigate allegations.

The district is also investing in safety and security packages for all of its campuses and buildings as part of the $330 million bond approved by voters in 2016.

The first campus that will have upgrades will be Wells Middle School. Upgrades will include card readers on exterior doors, more controlled building access and additional video monitoring.

Other campuses will also also have upgrades, including fences and improving visibility by eliminating brush.

mayra.cruz@chron.com

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