During the public comments portion of the Nov. 13 school board meeting, several people addressed the board about overcrowding in certain schools.
Cynthia Putnam has two students at Fall Creek Elementary, and asked the board to consider building Elementary School No. 30 much earlier to alleviate the overcrowding issue, which Putnam says is affecting both safety and quality of education.
Humble ISD opened its 28th elementary school, Groves Elementary, last year, and recently purchased land in the Lakewood Pines subdivision in Atascocita for the 950-student Elementary School No. 29, which the district plans to open in August 2019. Putnam stated that Elementary School No. 30, planned as the second elementary school for the Fall Creek area, is not expected to open until 2022. She asked the board to consider sticking to their original 2021 build date, and perhaps to even consider building the school sooner. “I hope that after tonight, you make this issue a priority and help us solve it,” Putnam stated.
Putnam explained that Fall Creek Elementary was built 10 years ago to hold 750 students, but currently is way over capacity at 1,071 students. The school houses fourth and fifth graders in eight portable buildings, the most of any of the elementary schools in the district.
“Overcrowding results in loss of instruction time, reduces our kids’ ability to participate in specials, and is a great safety concern,” Putnam explained. She stated that everything at the school, including bathroom breaks and going to and from classes, takes more time due to the congestion caused by having nearly 400 more students than planned. Lunch runs from 11:15 to 1:45 to accommodate the large number of students, and this reduces the cafeteria use for other purposes. Students at the school only attend PE every three days and attend “specials,” meaning activities like art and library time, once every eight days.
Putnam also cited class sizes; she said the majority of classes are over the Texas-recommended 22:1 student-to-teacher ratio, and that distractions and behavior issues are negatively affecting teachers’ ability to effectively teach. Putnam explained that parking issues are a huge safety concern. Kids are getting dropped off further away because parents don’t want to wait in the long lines.
Jennifer Grillo is vice president of the Fall Creek Homeowners Association (HOA). Grillo also spoke at the meeting, requesting that the HOA be included in the decision-making process for the building of the new elementary school. When Humble ISD purchased the land in Fall Creek for the school, the HOA was not consulted, and Grillo said the HOA “noses were a little out of joint” about it. Going forward, the HOA and Grillo would like to be part of the discussions. “Communication is key in any endeavor that is going to affect a community. We have been extremely fortunate with Fall Creek Elementary and we want to continue that with a high caliber new Elementary School 30,” Grillo stated.
Fall Creek contains about 2,800 homes. Construction on the large subdivision will be complete by the end of this year, with about 7,000 to 8,000 residents expected. Some residents feel there is an east-west divide, and that the west side of the subdivision gets more district amenities. The new school is planned for the east side.
Grillo said that her HOA had been reaching out to the district even before the May 2018 bond issue passed regarding timing of the build and how the overcrowding issues are affecting the community. She asked the board to consider a split campus, where K-2 students would attend one school and grades 3 to 5 would go to the other school. Grillo stated that this outcome is acceptable to the community, and that other solutions might split and divide Fall Creek.
Grillo offered the HOA’s help on the issue going forward: “Please allow us to be part of that decision-making process.”
Because these issues were not on the official board agenda, the board trustees could not comment on them, but Grillo did tell The Tribune that several trustees spoke with her after the conclusion of the meeting to assure her they had already been discussing the issues.
Parent Trisha Krebs spoke about similar overcrowding issues at Woodcreek Middle School. Krebs began by saying that she is honored to be a parent in this district and thanked the board for their work. The school’s current enrollment is 1,536, despite being planned for 1,100 students. The 2020 enrollment is projected to top 2,100 students. The district had originally promised to build the school in August 2020, but slipped the build-out to 2021. Woodcreek currently has 14 portable buildings to accommodate the overflow of 400-plus students.
At the beginning of this school year, Woodcreek experienced a much larger than expected student enrollment, which left the school with classes without permanent teachers, and some sixth graders waiting nearly a month for a permanent class schedule. Krebs says some classes still have 38 students.
Summer Creek High School principal Brent MacDonald used to be the Woodcreek principal. Since he left, the school has had three principals in three years, an unfortunate turnover rate that Krebs said has affected students and teachers alike. “We have lost over 50 of our teachers and staff; that is about half of the faculty.” Krebs said that she and other parents have been discussing the issue with the district for a while, having met with both Melissa Hayhurst and Roger Brown regarding the issues.
Nachelle Scott is the Woodcreek interim principal. Krebs says she is doing a great job, but she needs help. Krebs requested that the district provide Scott an additional assistant principal and counselor to help. She also requested that the school be built in 2020 as originally planned: “I am asking you to do what you promised you would do,” Krebs said.
Just two years ago, Humble ISD faced similar issues with their rezoning plan for The Groves Elementary School and Atascocita Springs Elementary. Rezoning of those areas was always part of the district’s plan there, and had been in work for over a year, only to be revealed in late November 2016 in a series of town hall meetings to gain community input.
The plan called for certain neighborhoods currently zoned to Atascocita Springs and Eagle Springs Elementary to be rezoned to the new school, and some neighborhoods to be rezoned from Eagle Springs to Atascocita Springs. At the time, parents expressed frustration that the plan was rushed and that an unnecessarily large number of students—600 in all—were affected even though only 250 needed to be moved to alleviate overcrowding.
On May 5, voters approved a $575 million bond referendum to build new schools, rebuild aging facilities, and provide other renovations and repairs. The district moved swiftly by selling $125 million in bonds in July to pay for the first part of this overall plan.
Superintendent Liz Fagen commented that the “district is working diligently with the bond funds and they are having conversations regarding elementary school No. 30 and middle school No. 9. The district wants every child to have a great learning opportunity no matter which school they attend. The district will make sure the communication is strong on all of the Bond and school building topics as they move forward.”
Projects are listed on the district website, humbleisd.net, under the “Bond 2018: Keeping Our Promises” section. Projects such as the Atascocita High School classroom addition, field turf installation, rebuild of the north agricultural barn, and a design contest for rebuild of Lakeland Elementary are listed as projects underway.
The district states that construction schedules are determined according to how imminently critical the need is, how many projects can be simultaneously managed, and a desire to minimize campus disruptions.
According to the parents who spoke on Nov. 13, these new school projects should top the district’s list.