A joint meeting between Weatherford ISD and the Weatherford City Council Thursday night yielded more information on something both sides have been talking about a lot lately – growth and how to handle it.
But before any of that was to be discussed, the two groups boarded a WISD school bus and headed over to the new Shirley Hall Middle School for a tour of the building that is scheduled to open on August 28.
Upon arriving, the visitors were told by WISD Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Hanks that it was still an active construction zone so no pictures inside would be allowed but that he wanted to give everyone a chance to see the progress that’s been made on the facility.
Hanks explained that the building can accommodate up to 1,100 students in grades sixth through eighth, a new configuration for WISD for middle school this year, but that 900 students would enter the halls in the fall.
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"It’s new for us but it gives us more capacity on our campuses," he said.
After walking through a controlled entry that Hanks said is new to all campuses, the campus opens into three wings, affectionately called "mobs" to mimic what a group of kangaroos is referred to when together. Each of these wings represents a grade level, with the closest to the office being sixth.
"Some parents were concerned with the sixth graders moving in with the big kids so [them being closest to the office] should help with the concern," Hanks said. "Everyone will be fine."
Each mob has a teacher area (for conferences and other things), a student area (for studying or projects) and a collaboration space. There are about 10 classrooms and each also has monitors at the end for teachers to be able to keep an eye on students in that area.
The cafeteria doubles as the auditorium when the stage is in use. There is also an outside covered patio area that can seat about 40-50 students. Hanks said that area might be used as a reward but that hasn’t been determined yet.
The tour finished in the gyms, both the competition and regular-use gym. Hanks noted that the one gym is part of the "old" Shirley Hall building and that they were able to use that section with refurbishments and "add" it to the new facility.
"Overall, it’s a super nice facility for the community and for our kids," Hanks said, adding that the project came in under the $40 million budget despite having some obstacles in the beginning to overcome.
Hanks also thanked Pogue Construction, Huckabee Architects and the City of Weatherford for their help with the projects.
When the groups returned to the District Services Building for the meeting, Trent Smith with Templeton Demographics gave an overview of growth within WISD currently and what is projected over the next 10 years.
Smith discussed economic conditions in and around Dallas/Fort Worth including job growth, the unemployment rate and homes being built. He said Weatherford’s unemployment rate is at 4 percent and that there were 868 listings for homes in May 2017. He said roughly 12 percent of new home sales in 2016 were in the WISD.
Smith then went through each of the housing developments in WISD and listed how many homes were currently built and if there were any lots yet to be developed. He said the Mary Martin Elementary and Curtis Elementary areas were most active for housing development. He noted that Westover Village in Curtis Elementary had 68 closings in 2016 and is building out but that Weatherford Heights has its first home sales underway.
Overall, WISD had 160 new students this year and can expect to see at least 600 more over the next five years. By the 2021-22 school year, WISD is projected to have 8,621 students. Over the next 10 years, projected enrollment at WISD is expected to be more than 9,100 students.
After Smith’s presentation, Hanks went over some of WISD’s past projects and spoke of the District’s mission. He stated that WISD includes 254 square miles that stretches from Hood to Wise counties.
"We know [growth] is coming," he said.
He also mentioned that the average class size is smaller than some might think. He showed a graphic with some of the area schools that placed WISD at just about the same size of students per class or smaller.
"It’s a misconception that just because we’re larger, the classes are bigger," Hanks said.
Hanks noted also that the graduation rate in Weatherford is 98.1 percent which is nearly 10 percentage points higher than the region and state averages (89.3 and 89, respectively). He was "very proud" to say that Weatherford’s dropout rate is zero.
Finally, Hanks talked about the future and some of the projects the District is working on and looking at working on, either as part of scheduled maintenance or new construction. He said the WISD Board of Trustees will be looking at the possibility of a Multi-Purpose Activity Center (MAC) or a new Ag Science Center and possibly a new Career and Technology Center in the coming months.
The City of Weatherford then spoke about its General Plan and gave a transportation update.