Round Rock ISD explores arts, language, tech academies

Round Rock ISD is considering several schools aimed at catering to students who want to focus their education in a specific area.

At an Oct. 8 workshop, the RRISD board of trustees gave district staff the go-ahead to explore an elementary and middle school fine arts academy; a world language institution for kindergarten through eighth grade; and a science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM school, among others.

At its Sept. 17 meeting, the board directed staff to explore an early college high school, which would allow seniors to graduate with a traditional high school diploma and an associate’s degree.

These schools of choice are part of RRISD’s strategic plan, which the board adopted May 21. One of the goals in the plan is to provide students with flexible learning environments.

At the Oct. 8 workshop, Daniel Presley, chief of schools and innovation, said the district has bond funding available for a master plan for C.D. Fulkes Middle School on West Anderson Avenue in Round Rock. Because arts is beginning to flourishin downtown Round Rock, Presley said C.D. Fulkes could be a good location for a fine arts academy. A world language elementary and middle school is another specialty school option, he said.

Presley said he would work with staff to see which of the schools of choice could be rolled out for the 2016-17 school year and which schools would follow in subsequent years.

“We could [start] next fall,” he said.

Laura Segers, executive director of State and Federal Programs, said a language school would prepare students to become global citizens.

“Mandarin is a language of commerce throughout the world,” she said.

Segers also advocated for an early childhood literacy center for pre-kindergarten children.

Trustee Teri Romere proposed having district staff explore a vocational or career-path high school for the district, and Superintendent Steve Flores proposed investigating a technical high school because of the district’s proximity to Dell Inc.

Trustee Diane Cox said she worried students at the specialized schools would lack in other academic areas. She also expressed concern that transportation would not be provided to students who live too far away from the school they wish to attend.

Presley said regardless of the location of the specialty schools, students who were interesting in attending would be able to transfer into the school.

“We will provide the support that our kids need no matter which campus they’re on,” Presley said.

Flores said the schools of choice are ideal interim opportunities to help alleviate overcrowding, but the district will also need a new comprehensive high school in the next five years.

“Obviously, that’s a bond requirement,” he said, adding the district did not know when the next bond election would take place.

Flores said he intends to have the design of the new comprehensive high school prepared before a bond is proposed.

Romere said it would not be difficult to convince voters to pass a bond.

“Round Rock is so energized around education,” she said.