Proposed Allen ISD attendance zones offer window into expected enrollment growth

Administrators have unveiled a plan to relieve Allen ISD’s most crowded elementary school, Lindsey Elementary, as the district prepares to open its newest school facility next year.

AISD in late October released its proposed attendance zones for the 2017-18 school year that would reassign parts of Lindsey and Cheatham elementary school attendance zones to the district’s 18th elementary school.

Balancing the student populationThe plan would primarily affect 557 Lindsey and Cheatham students who live in the Allen neighborhoods of StarCreek, Saddleridge and Shaddock Park. These students would be reassigned to Elementary School No. 18, which is scheduled to open in August.

“With the current projections that the city has given us about the land that could flip [from commercial to residential use], it looks like this could be our last elementary,” said Louise Master, president of the AISD board of trustees. “That said, we said that about [Lindsey Elementary], too.”

Balancing the student populationLindsey Elementary, a school with enough designated classroom space for 855 students, is serving more than 900 students in its fourth year since opening in 2013. Lindsey serves a portion of the district near SH 121 spanning both McKinney and Allen city limits that district officials say has grown more rapidly than originally expected. If the proposed changes go into effect, Lindsey would serve students only within McKinney city limits, while the Allen portion would go to the new elementary school.

District officials are using the new elementary school as an opportunity to reunite the StarCreek neighborhood in Allen that had been split between Lindsey and Cheatham, said Robin Bullock, assistant superintendent for school leadership and support services. District officials are also using the new plan as an opportunity to re-examine the district’s other attendance zones to account for anticipated growth in existing subdivisions and undeveloped areas.

“Our goal at the onset—other than having to move kids into Elementary [School No.] 18—was to affect as few kids as possible,” Bullock said.

The proposal would also affect up to 57 students outside the new elementary school attendance zone. This group includes 35 students in Twin Creeks Crossing apartments moving from Boon to Cheatham elementaries. It also includes 22 students living in the Spicewood neighborhood and Parkside apartments at Craig Ranch in McKinney who will be reassigned from Evans to Kerr elementaries.

The plan also shifts undeveloped plots of land near SH 121 to different schools. Much of this undeveloped land is zoned for commercial development likely to feature urban-style residential developments, which traditionally yield a low rate of students, Chief Operations Officer Daniel Pitcock said.

Long-term growth

Although the opening of the new elementary school will have an immediate effect on Lindsey’s crowded hallways, in the long run, district enrollment projections show Lindsey is expected to once again approach its functional capacity by 2021.

Although schools can accept a number of students above their functional capacity levels, that accommodation usually requires converting rooms intended for other purposes into classrooms, Pitcock said.

AISD projects that while the student population at Lindsey is expected to approach the school’s functional capacity by 2021, the district expects elementary student population to decline afterward because of decreasing numbers of younger children in the district pipeline.

“People love Allen, and as their kids graduate from Allen High School, they’re staying in Allen, and so it’s not yielding those younger kiddos,” Pitcock said. “I think they’re building great houses in Allen. We’ve seen a housing market bump in price that maybe people further along in their career who maybe have older kiddos are moving to Allen.”

Guiding principles

The district considered splitting some of the students on the northwest side of Allen between Curtis and Ereckson middle schools to help even out expected population levels but opted instead to leave the middle school feeder patterns mostly unchanged.

Balancing the student populationTrustees required district staff to abide by a list of eight parameters to guide the attendance zone conversations. One of the parameters was that AISD would continue to abide by a “feeder school” philosophy whereby all students at an elementary school  campus are assigned to attend the same middle school.

“We really tried to hold true to those parameters,” Bullock said. “We wanted to reunite neighborhoods, and we wanted to keep those elementary kiddos together as they transition from their elementary into their middle school feeder.”

Other parameters trustees set for the attendance zones required district staff to consider the proposal’s fiscal impact and “demographic diversity … in its analysis of feeder school scenarios.”

Hearing feedback

After unveiling the attendance zone plan, the district scheduled two public input meetings to gather feedback for consideration before trustees approve the final plan in December or January.

Shaddock Park resident Michael Cole joined several parents expressing concern at the first public meeting about a perceived lack of diversity in the attendance zone for the new elementary school. Cole, who is African-American, said his child benefited from the relative socio-economic diversity of Lindsey Elementary.

Now, that area is being zoned into Elementary School No. 18, along with newer neighborhoods that some parents worry will not reflect a great deal of socio-economic diversity.

“I’m just saying it seems like the precedence of [enrollment] numbers over diversity seems to be your concern—not that it was intentional, but it just seems like that was easier,” Cole told district staff at the meeting.

Bullock said the district considers factors like diversity in population more at the middle school level than the elementary school level.

Students at the new elementary school are still in the Curtis Middle School feeder pattern, as they were before.

Audrey Reed, president of McKinney Village Park homeowners association and parent of two Lindsey students, said she believes the current proposal “does not solve the overcrowding problem at Lindsey, period.”

Reed proposed a couple alternatives that would flip some subdivisions on either side of SH 121 so Lindsey would retain students from Allen city limits and the new elementary school would take some students from McKinney.

“I believe that the district found an easy solution in using [SH] 121 as the dividing line,” Reed said. “I don’t believe that they found the solution that impacts as few students as possible or adequately relieves the overcrowding for my kids, my neighborhood and yours.”

Overall, Bullock said district officials believe they put forward a plan that affects the fewest possible number of current students while sticking to the district’s parameters established by the board of trustees.

Some students scheduled to move schools next year can apply for an exemption according to the district’s grandfathering rules, Pitcock said.

In the meantime, the district is consolidating parent feedback and will present a report on the public meetings to trustees.