By Amanda Thomas
A six-month wait finally came to an end Thursday when the Waco Independent School District made its final decision regarding its school closings. Now — with nine schools set to close and A.J. Moore Academy students relocating — the school board, students, parents, teachers and community members are waiting for the reveal of new attendance zones, which should come later this month.
“Process-wise, the next step is to draw new attendance zones,” Pat Atkins, president at-large of the Waco I.S.D. school board, said.
W.I.S.D. Superintendent Bonnie Cain said the school district is working with the district demographer to make new attendance zones. Drafts of attendance zone plans should be ready to present to the school board March 22, and the school board could start the voting process as soon as March 29.
The March 22 and tentative March 29 attendance zone meetings will be open to the public.
After the $3.4 million cut in state funding Waco ISD received, the school board began the process of planning what it could do to save money and had demographers assess the district, Cain said.
“I started with one plan and kept taking input,” Cain said. “I couldn’t cut the teachers [and] I could not cut the programs, so I had to cut the facilities.”
In September, the school board looked at the demographer’s report, and over the past six months, the school board, students, teachers and other community members have come together to create a plan that would benefit everyone, Cain said.
“You never want to close a school,” Cain said. “I really regret having to make this decision.”
At the end of January, the board met and discussed the plans that were developed by Cain as well as other plans that were presented by community members, along with input they had received from community members.
“At the meeting, we asked Superintendent Bonnie Cain to come up with a final plan, and Feb. 14, the plan was presented to the board,” Atkins said.
On Feb. 23 the school board made its final decision, which will be enacted next school year. For the final plan, Cain said she considered input from the community members and board, though it was not one of the plans originally presented.
The plan outlined the closure of nine schools, along with the relocation of A.J. Moore students to University High School. The plan also included a decision to change the A.J. Moore facility into a middle school.
Schools that will close are Viking Hills Elementary School, Sul Ross Elementary School, Meadowbrook Elementary School, North Waco Elementary School, Lake Waco Montessori, Brazos Middle School, University Middle School, Waco Alternative School and STARS High School.
During the rezoning process, the school board is making sure the students will have a comfortable transition, Atkins said.
“These schools are not just dots on a map,” Atkins said. “These are real students and real teachers.”
Letters were sent to parents on Friday, informing them of the board’s decisions and when they will be enacted. A survey asking teachers and faculty members affected by the decisions where they would like to be relocated was also made available.
The school board recognizes that there is a human element involved and they are working to make sure these changes happen smoothly, Atkins said.
“We are beginning to take steps regarding the human process,” Atkins said. “Talking to teachers and seeing what campuses they would like to go to and what grades they would like to teach at and setting up open houses at the new schools to get the students and parents to acclimate.”
James Rauhut, University of Texas freshman and a 2011 graduate of A.J Moore, developed the “Blue Plan” in hopes of saving A.J. Moore. Rauhut attended the town meetings and worked with community members in order to get support for the “Blue Plan.”
“I’m upset,” Rauhut said. “Even though they kept the A.J. Moore building open, they are not keeping the school open — something that was a part of my plan.”
Looking forward, Rauhut hopes to help Waco I.S.D. in another way by helping in the upcoming School Board election.
“I hope this does not affect the students badly, but it’s hard to see how that will happen,” Rauhut said. “Now I am concerned with getting more community members on the board and helping with the school board elections.”