Top Hays Free Press Education Stories of 2017

McKie resigns, new superintendent approved

Hays CISD began the search for its next leader after Superintendent Michael McKie informed his executive staff in May that he intended to resign at the end of the 2017 school year.

In May, Hays CISD posted an agenda item stating the Hays CISD board of trustees would take the resignation up in executive session, along with discussing potential candidates for acting or interim superintendent.

McKie was hired as Hays CISD superintendent on May 23, 2013 and started serving the district five days afterward. McKie’s contract was set to run through June 30, 2019.

According to a joint statement, the Board of Trustees and McKie “have entered in the agreement believing it is in their respective best interests, and in the best interests of the district.”

During McKie’s tenure, voters in the district passed a $59 million bond in 2014 that included building four new campuses and improvements to district infrastructure and technology. In 2017, voters approved a $250 million bond spread across two propositions which included a new high school, two new elementary schools and various improvements across the district.

McKie also led implementation of a new strategic plan, an internal audit of all departments to address “current issues and needs,” as well as annual stakeholder satisfaction surveys, among other items, according to the district’s statement.

“Mr. McKie thanks the present and past board of trustees for providing him with the opportunity to serve in the Hays Consolidated Independent School District,” according to the district’s statement.

At the meeting, trustees voted 7-0 to approve McKie’s resignation and release agreement and named Carter Scherff, chief operations officer, as acting superintendent. In July, board trustees voted to hire Dr. Ann Dixon as Hays CISD’s interim superintendent during a special called board meeting. In December, trustees approved former Fredericksburg ISD superintendent Eric Wright as the official superintendent.

Back in the water:  HCISD approves $5M aquatic complex

A $5 million dollar natatorium was approved by Hays CISD trustees during their Aug 31 meeting as a response to the continued growth and popularity of Hays’ school swimming programs.

The decision, made on a 4-2 vote with one abstention, allows the district to move forward on an agreement with YMCA of Austin for joint use of a natatorium in Camp Cypress, which is located along Old San Antonio Road in Buda. Board president Merideth Keller abstained from voting.

Hays CISD trustees’ decision also overrode an earlier 3-3 vote in June, which caused the agreement to initially fail.

Trustee Vice President Teresa Tobias, who voted against the measure, disagreed with the timing of approving a costly item while the district faces a $3.4 million deficit.

“It’s a challenging time for this district,” Tobias said. “I don’t think anyone on this board made their decision lightly, regardless of their decision.”

Esperanza Orosco, who also voted against the decision, shared her concerns that the district should focus on more academic efforts.

“We are in a shortfall, we cannot compensate our employees adequately enough,” Orosco said. “We need to prioritize what we value.”

Several parents, teachers, coaches and even students took the opportunity to explain the importance of the school district’s swim program during the public discussion segment of the meeting.

Hays County Pct. 5 Justice of the Peace Scott Cary cited his own time as a troubled youth and how the YMCA helped change his life for the better.

“The more kids we reach through the YMCA, the less come into my courtroom,” Cary said.

Currently, the Hays and Lehman high swim teams share four lanes at the Hays Communities YMCA in Buda.

However, with 20 to 30 kids in each program, coaches and students were concerned swimmers would be “swimming over each other” during practices.

The now accepted natatorium would provide ten lanes in the morning and evening to allow ample time and space for the swim teams.

Bus service to stop for some students

Bus service will be ending in January 2018 for students living within two miles of several Hays CISD campuses after the district updated its hazardous routes list.

The update, which was approved at a Aug. 31 board of trustee meeting, affects  an estimated 1,470 students who live within two miles of Fuentes Elementary, Barton and Wallace middle school and all of the district’s high schools.

Tim Savoy, Hays CISD public information officer, said those students wouldn’t be eligible for bus service because new sidewalks are planned for FM 2770, FM 150 and Rebel Road, and Goforth Road.

The installation of sidewalks was completed by the end of the fall semester. Those routes are no longer deemed as “hazardous” under the Texas Education Code (TEC), Savoy said.

Under the TEC, districts can receive up to 10 percent of additional funding for bus service for students who live within two miles of a campus on routes categorized as hazardous.

“Anything under two miles, we do not get reimbursed from the state. Our board policy says that we will not operate any routes that we do not get state money from,” said Carter Scherff, Hays CISD chief operations officer, at an Aug. 21 board meeting.

Scherff said with the elimination of some bus routes, the district would have less than 10 percent of funding allocated to hazardous routes, which puts them in compliance with the state.

However, a handful of parents voiced concerns at the Aug. 31 board meeting about students walking to school without supervision.

Students who use FM 2770 near Kohler’s Crossing as their route will have to be trained on the safest place to cross, Scherff said.  

Vanessa Petrea, Hays CISD at-large trustee, said parents need to get involved in filling gaps usually filled by crossing guards.  

“It’s going to take the whole community kind of getting together to make it work,” Petrea said.

State mourns education crusader known for ‘No Pass No Play’ rule

A gregarious personality with a passion for education is how many remembered former Texas Governor Mark White,  who passed away at age 77 in August 2017.

White, a graduate from the Baylor University School of Law, served as Texas’ attorney general and secretary of state before he was elected governor in 1983. His tenure lasted for one term and went from 1983 to 1987.

During his tenure in the Governor’s Mansion, White, a Democrat, crusaded for education, based primarily on his mother, who was a first-grade teacher, according to his reports.

Some of White’s policies included limiting class sizes, increasing teacher pay, and requiring competency testing for teachers.

What is he most known for is instituting the first “No Pass, No Play” rule in Texas, a rule that remains in existence today. Under No Pass, No Play, students at Texas public schools were required to pass all of their classes in order to be eligible for extracurricular activities and athletics.

Kyle resident Calvin Kirkham, a longtime coach at several schools, including Odessa Permian High, said White was “severely criticized” by many when No Pass, No Play was instituted.

However, he believes White was later the recipient of praise based on the success of his rule.

Kirkham, who had retired from coaching when White took office, said he had always emphasized academics over athletics even before No Pass, No Play.

“It made you tow the line. There were coaches I knew where they thought football was the only thing in the world,” Kirkham said. “You needed to do both … it didn’t mean you have to be the best student, but you do have to do what teachers required of you.”

Tim Savoy, Hays CISD public information officer, said White’s No Pass, No Play policy is one of the visible changes to Texas’ school system people still see.

“The No Pass, No Play rule made it crystal clear that, first and foremost, students have to have a solid grasp of their academic content before they could participate in extracurriculars,” Savoy said.

White frequently visited the scenic Hill Country vistas of western Hays County with his family. White was remembered by a handful of public officials on social media, including former President Bill Clinton.

New Kyle charter school to open for 2018 school year

In June, Larkin Tackett, vice president of community for IDEA public schools, unveiled plans to the Kyle City Council for a proposed $20 million, 110,000 square foot charter school facility.

Construction moved forward after Kyle Planning and Zoning commissioners approved two conditional use permits for the facility at the intersection of Goforth Road near Bluestem Road.  After being approved by the city council, the city now needs to complete a traffic impact analysis in the area.

On Nov. 30, IDEA Public Schools  announced Ester Polanco and Jorge Chipres as the founding principals at the IDEA Kyle campus.

Officials with IDEA plan to start with 450 students in grades kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and 6th grades and would add 240 more students every year afterward.

“We understand any school or massive project would generate more traffic in the area,” Atkinson said. “We want to study and have the best way to get cars in and out of there in the most efficient manner possible.”

He added the campus would be a cutting edge facility with “all of the latest learning technology” and access to soccer fields and play area.

“Our students need to be well-rounded individuals,” Tackett said.

Pete Oppel, P&Z seat 1, said he advocated for charter schools based on what they produce and it could “go a long way to raising the educational standards in the area.”

“Anything that provides an educational product, I think the community should support,” Oppel said. “The kids are our future and we should give them every educational opportunity that we can. Charter schools offer another opportunity for our schools.”

While Oppel said there have been bad charter schools, he cited IDEA’s rankings, which he believed set a high standard.

“We are really looking forward to being a great neighbor. We know we have to earn that,” Tackett said. “We are here to partner, to listen and to make sure the school is an asset to the community.”

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