Sara Bonser, new Plano ISD superintendent, outlines path forward for policy updates

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A leadership transition in Plano ISD brought about by a former superintendent’s resignation in November has provided Sara Bonser, the newly named superintendent, the task of presiding over the largest school district in Collin County.

Since the start of her tenure on April 1, key policy discussions Bonser said she plans to oversee in the coming months include completing the district’s yearslong re-evaluation of its class-ranking practice. She also said she will bring to the table new initiatives of her own, which include strengthening security on PISD campuses and expanding the district’s social-emotional health services programs.

“As superintendent you will have my deepest commitment to devote my leadership and passion for learning to academic excellence—maintaining Plano ISD’s legacy of high academic achievement while always keeping mindful of the individual need of each and every learner we serve,” Bonser said to a group of reporters, district faculty and staff, and the board of trustees at a March 6 meeting.

Weighted GPA, class rank

PISD trustees are still on track to vote in June on a long-considered proposal to revamp how the district calculates class rank and weighted GPA.

A committee established during former Superintendent Brian Binggeli’s administration was tasked with analyzing the district’s weighted grade point average practices. It is expected to present its findings and recommendations to the board of trustees on April 24, Bonser said. The recommendation will cover both weighted GPA and class rank.

“We pieced together this parent advisory group so that they reflected all kinds of kids in all kinds of situations so that all voices are heard in this process,” Bonser said. “We feel like that conversation of learning and discussion and listening and contribution to the conversation will help us make some quality recommendations to the board.”

The district has held parent meetings to discuss some of the contents of the planned proposal as well as gather feedback, but a district spokesperson declined to provide the early plans.

“Beyond the parent meetings that were hosted there are no plans to share information publicly before presenting to the school board later this month,” PISD spokesperson Lesley Range-Stanton wrote in an email. “The information was preliminary, and the parent feedback that is being collected will also be a part of the board presentation.”

The board of trustees is expected to take action based on those recommendations at its June meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Campus Services Susan Modisette said. If the board takes action, students will not see the effects in the 2018-19 school year.

“When you start to look at GPA or class rank systems, you don’t make a change for a group that is already earning high school credit,” Bonser said.

Before this paper’s print deadline, Modisette said her team was prepared to present the proposal for the first time at the board of trustees’ April 24 work session.

Months before he left the district, Binggeli requested the board delay taking action on the district’s class rank practice to allow staff more time to gather information on its weighted GPA policies.

“We would recommend that we basically be given another year, if you will, to engage in the kind of research and inclusion and focus groups and surveys and all of the things that occurred in class rank,” Binggeli said at a May 2017 trustees meeting.

School safety

In response to a recent national groundswell of dialogue surrounding school safety, the Plano Police Department in April began recruiting and training 15 new police officers and a sergeant to be stationed in Plano schools.

Plano Police Chief Greg Rushin initially presented the proposal to the Plano City Council on March 20 to request the city’s participation in footing half the bill to bring on the new officers.

Bonser said the district is also evaluating the security of its facilities to determine if any updates are necessary. The district will install new public address systems, which will broadcast a message in the event of an emergency, over the summer in the senior high schools as a part of the effort.

But for Rushin, getting more police officers into schools remains the best solution for overall campus safety, he said.

“I don’t think you can really quantify the good that school resource officers do, above and beyond security in the schools,” Rushin said. “They have a lot of other functions as well.”

Those functions, Rushin said, include officers advising on school-related traffic safety and crime prevention, providing counseling services to students and participating in parent conferences.

At the same March 20 meeting, City Manager Bruce Glasscock said he had been in communication with Bonser, and that both he and Bonser had identified school security as a top priority.

“When we talk about Plano being a safe community, and the public saying that’s a No. 1 priority, this is a piece of our safety net that has been lacking,” Glasscock said.

PISD schools will add the new officers in August 2019 after the department has had the opportunity to hire and train them.

With the agreement and city funding approved by the city on March 26, the number of school resource officers in PISD will rise from nine to 24. Two sergeants will oversee the program.

The new officers will produce a recurring expense of $1.72 million per year, according to city documents. The district staff has told the city it plans to cover half of the personnel costs for the hires. The PISD board of trustees plans to discuss the expenditure on April 24.

Social-emotional learning

During her stint at Rockwall ISD Bonser helped launch a program that offered the other North Texas district’s students educational services based on their social and emotional well-being. Now as the superintendent of PISD, Bonser hopes to expand a similar program offered at PISD elementary schools to middle and high schools.

One of the proposals for the expansion includes providing social-emotional health training for a select group of teachers who would then become the liaisons at their respective campuses, said Modisette.

“The social-emotional learning tries to help them manage their academic stress, their emotional well-being and being able to deal with that in healthy ways—how to take care of themselves,” Bonser said. “We’re teaching these things to kids so that they understand themselves better, and they understand each other better.”

Bonser said the utility of a social-emotional educational program is particularly relevant for today’s students.

“Kids have a lot more stress now maybe than we had growing up,” Bonser said. “The demands on kids, the social media, just society in general is a little bit more stressful, I think, for kids.”

The district has laid out the elements of social-emotional health it tries to instill in its students, including teaching students about self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, how to maintain relationships and how to make responsible decisions.

The end goal, Bonser said, is to ensure the district does its best to meet the needs of each child—be it through academics or honing their social-emotional skills.

“I just think it’s really important to take care of the whole child,” Bonser said.

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Gavin Pugh
Gavin got his chops as a reporter when he was editor-in-chief of the Baylor Lariat. He previously reported for Community Impact Newspaper's Plano edition before becoming editor of the Las Colinas, Valley Ranch and Coppell edition. His beat includes transportation, municipal government, education and Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
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