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Frisco ISD racing to keep up with growth

Dallas Morning News
September 28, 2014

By Eva-Marie Ayala

FRISCO — It’s difficult to exaggerate just how fast the growth is barreling down on Frisco, where the district is now on track to open four high schools in four years.

That’s four new mascots. Four new marching bands, football teams and theater programs to build from the ground up. Four campuses to create entirely new school traditions.

“There is just this intense energy and excitement that comes from opening a new high school,” Frisco Superintendent Jeremy Lyon said. “Look at our Independence High students who opened that school this year. Every single student who will be in that yearbook this year will be the ones to make their mark on what Independence will be from here on out.

Next up is Reedy High, set to open in 2015. Meanwhile, dirt is already flying so that Lebanon High can open in 2016. Now officials are finalizing plans in north Frisco for the district’s 10th high school, which is likely to open in 2017.

Trustees still have to approve the timeline, but administrators told city leaders last week that rapid population growth means that campus will be needed a year earlier than initially planned.

No other district in Texas is growing like Frisco, which adds about 3,500 students a year.

“That’s the equivalent of a midsize Texas school district,” said Michelle Smith, executive director of the state’s Fast Growth School Coalition, which works with growing districts.

The growth is roughly the size of the Lovejoy or Kennedale school districts.

“You see some major growth episodes, but that kind of growth that Frisco is seeing is not comparable to anywhere else in the state,” she said.

Frisco is often considered one of the fastest-growing school districts nationwide. Many families are drawn to the district’s commitment to maintain small schools, which in turn spurs more students and means more new campuses.

The district is expected to reach 50,000 students this year. That is just behind the neighboring Plano school district, which has about 53,000. Frisco’s build-out could reach up to 80,000 students, about the size of the Fort Worth school district.

Twenty years ago, Frisco ISD had just 2,100 students and one high school.

Demographer Pat Guseman notes that most of Texas’ fastest-growing districts are in the Houston area. There’s also the Ector County school district — spurred by the oil business in Odessa — and the booming Leander school district near Austin.

But none have had to open so many high schools consecutively like Frisco, she noted.

“And historically, the growth has definitively oriented to the north of Dallas — first to areas like Garland and then to Plano and then on to Frisco,” Guseman said. “Even the small districts are seeing it. The next highest percentage growth after Frisco is Prosper.”

Collin County itself has tripled in population since the 1990s. The area is home to some of the nation’s largest companies and soon will add the Toyota headquarters to that list.

So for Frisco, that means constantly working to stay ahead.

District officials routinely have to move up the timelines of new schools to meet the need.

For example, officials hadn’t planned on opening a new elementary next year. But on the first day of school in August, enrollment at Ashley Elementary School soared over last year.

So the district accelerated plans to build another elementary campus near Ashley in the central part of the district that will now open in 2015.

Lyon said the district is constantly monitoring new housing developments and city permits. Just one subdivision progressing quickly can trigger the need for a new school to come online sooner than expected, which can also mean a higher price tag for that campus.

Officials hope they will have a year to breathe in 2018 before high school No. 11 is needed the following year.

In the meantime, they are bracing for another round of painful rezoning. Next month, officials will start reviewing maps to adjust attendance boundaries for the new Reedy High.

To increase transparency, Lyon said administrators and trustees will have a work session focused only on rezoning issues so more discussion occurs in public.

“The most painful part of rezoning is going from one high school to two,” Lyon said. “Once we’re on to six, seven, eight, nine, well, we’re rolling along, but it never stops being a little bit painful.”