To keep pace, DSISD will open its fifth elementary school, Cypress Springs Elementary School, this fall. With it comes adjusted school zones, which can have a profound impact on students and their families.
This is not the first time in recent years DSISD has had to conduct this process—in 2017, the addition of Sycamore Springs Elementary School and Sycamore Springs Middle School also resulted in rezoning, and PASA’s enrollment projections suggest another elementary and middle school will be needed in three to four years.
“It does seem like the growth is causing ‘the airplane to be built in flight,’ which causes many challenges,” DSISD parent Jamie Protte said.
A committee of district administrators and staff presented new zoning options to the DSISD board of trustees on March 22. The board was initially set to vote on finalized maps March 29, but decided to hold a special meeting April 12 to allow more time for consideration.
The board asked the committee to follow certain guiding principles during its planning, which include zoning students to schools as near as possible to their homes and establish the least disruptive elementary to middle school feeder patterns.
But with two variably sized middle schools for five elementary campuses, following those guidelines is not a straightforward task.
“As a fast-growing district that’s spread over 200 square miles, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to meet all of these parameters for 100% of students,” said Clint Pruett, DSISD’s director of facilities and construction.
When the board votes on final maps this spring it will complete a monthslong process. The committee began developing maps in December and shared two initial options with parents Feb. 1. Parents from The View at Belterra neighborhood voiced concern that they would be rezoned from Rooster Springs Elementary, which is nestled directly in Belterra, to Cypress Springs.
“[It] would eliminate the community feel fostered by the community school relationships we currently have,” parent Blake Erickson said.
This was a concern the committee could accommodate, Pruett said, because The View at Belterra represents a relatively small and stable number of students, and would not push Rooster Springs far beyond its capacity.
“If we get a significant amount of feedback on a particular issue, and it’s something we can accommodate under the overall charge and parameters of the zoning process, then that’s something that we’re going to look at,” Pruett said.
The committee presented three new options March 1, all of which included The View at Belterra zoned to Rooster Springs.
The committee’s proposed maps primarily differ in the southern part of the district, where neighborhoods are alternately zoned to Walnut Springs Elementary, near downtown Dripping Springs, or the new Cypress Springs Elementary at the intersection of Sawyer Ranch Road and Darden Hill Road.
Middle school zones could remain the same, but the committee is also considering a second option, under which both Cypress Springs and Sycamore Springs students would be split between middle school campuses relatively evenly, allowing more students to stick together when making the transition. Some parents said they were concerned about long commutes with this option, including members of the Rim Rock community, who cited a 30-plus minute drive to Dripping Springs Middle.
“Extracurricular activities would be significantly impacted, plus the cost of the gas for the buses,” parent Anthony Ciccone said.
Some parents worry these complications will arise again and again as the district grows.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted even over the last 18 months how much this area has exploded in growth,” said Kelly Knowles DeVilling, a parent from the Reunion Ranch neighborhood whose daughter is likely to be re-zoned to her third elementary school in five years this fall.
While DSISD can anticipate expansion using demographic projections, plans for new campuses cannot be solidified until a bond is passed. Cypress Springs is funded by a $132 million bond, which passed by only a 31-vote margin in 2018. That bond also funded an expansion of Dripping Springs High School and a new campus for Walnut Springs Elementary, among other projects. Critics of the bond—the largest in DSISD’s history—took issue with the cost of some of the line items it would fund.
A new bond election could come as soon as 2022, but the narrow margin in 2018 has led the district to consider contingencies, according to Mike Garcia, DSISD facilities and construction project manager. For instance, DSISD chose to locate Cypress Springs near the back of a 155-acre property.
“It gives us some flexibility. With our history in this community, what if they never pass another bond again? Then we have the ability to sell [the remaining land] off,” Garcia said.
When discussing the placement of Cypress Springs, DSISD also considered the future placement of possible middle and high schools on the property. The choice of whether to add a second high school to the district is a looming decision on which the community is split.
“From our perspective at Reunion Ranch, thinking about my ninth grader one day having to go all the way to Dripping Springs High School, I very much want the district go forward with a high school on Darden Hill [Road],” DeVilling said.
DSISD could also choose to build a campus for freshman or 9th and 10th graders, or further expand the existing high school campus, which is projected to reach its capacity as soon as 2022.
Once new attendance zones are established, the task of transitioning students and families will begin. At Cypress Springs, principal Kellie Raymond will lead that effort.
“I’m hoping we can do some in-person things to get excitement going, like a building tour,” Raymond said.
Cypress Springs is on track for completion by July 23, according to representatives for general contractor Bartlett Cocke, and will be ready to welcome students in August. While aspects of the campus are new for a district facility, true to the tradition of all DSISD schools, Cypress Springs is named for real springs in the area.
“Things don’t stay the same forever, so you just hold true to what traditions that we can hold true to, and embrace the newness that new people bring,” Raymond said.
Note: An earlier version of this story said the board of trustees would hold a special meeting April 14. The meeting will actually be held April 12.