District still set on repurposing campus

TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Tyler ISD Superintendent Gary Mooring said the district cannot afford to keep its smaller middle schools operating if it opens larger ones.

This means that despite the pleas of the A.T. Stewart Middle School Concerned Citizen's Group and a petition circulating to keep the school open, TISD intends to move forward with its plans to repurpose the campus if voters approve the $160.5 million bond proposal.

"We're going to have to get more efficient in Tyler ISD with our middle schools," Mooring said by phone Tuesday.

The TISD bond proposal includes six projects: the construction of a career and technical education center, the construction of three middle schools: Boulter, Moore and one in southwest Tyler, and the completion of renovations/additions at Rice and Dixie elementary schools.

Although Stewart is not included as a project in the bond proposal, it would be affected if the proposal passes.

The district plans to repurpose the campus to a high school of choice called the A.T. Stewart Academy of Excellence.

This academy would offer the district's existing PACE program, as well as accelerated and specialized coursework for students who want a nontraditional high school environment.

This transition is a part of the district's overall plan to reduce the number of middle schools from six to four, one in each quadrant of the city. These would be Boulter in the northwest, the new middle school in the southwest, Hubbard in the southeast and Moore in the northeast. Each one, once built new, would be designed for 1,000 to 1,200 students.

In addition to Stewart, Hogg and Dogan would be closed as middle schools and repurposed for other uses under the district's long-range plan, which was approved in 2012.

Mooring said Stewart lends itself to repurposing because of its location between the northwest and southwest quadrants of the school district. In addition, it's a newer campus, so it's cheaper and more feasible to renovate, Mooring said.

He said the district has to look at what it can do so it doesn't create a seventh middle school and add another $2 million to the budget. That amount is the approximate cost of operating a middle school annually, he said.

Racially, the new southwest Tyler middle school is expected to have a fairly diverse population with slightly more than one third of its students being African-American, slightly more than one third white and a quarter of the students Hispanic.

TISD as a whole was about 43 percent Hispanic, 30 percent black and 25 percent white last school year, according to information on the Texas Education Agency website.

Stewart was more than 48 percent African-American, about 41 percent Hispanic and almost 10 percent white last school year, according to the Texas Education Agency website. It also had about 445 students.

Mooring said if the bond does pass and the district moves forward with the proposed plans for Stewart, TISD officials would visit other school districts to see programs that are similar to what they are looking to start here.

He said he wants the Stewart community involved in the planning process and plans to contact one of the leaders to determine who will be involved. Mooring said he's met with Stewart community members about six times.

He said the A.T. Stewart Academy of Excellence might not look like the campuses at the other school districts, but using input from community members, district officials, and school board members, the district can design a campus that best suits Tyler's needs.

He said the decision still has to be made about the campus, but the school board and the administration have to look at what's best for the whole district.

"Input and listening doesn't always mean doing what one segment of the population wants you to do …" he said. "It means that you've considered all factors and all input from all parts of the community."

With three new board members coming to TISD this month, Mooring said discussions about the issue could take place next year, and the plans could go in a different direction but, "something would have to give (because) we can't afford to open another $2 million facility (in) operating (expenses)."

Donald Sanders, a former Tyler city councilman and part of the A.T. Stewart Middle School Concerned Citizen's Group, said Monday that even if the bond passes, the group still would press forward with its efforts to keep the school operating as a middle school.

"In regard to the high school of excellence they are talking about for A.T. Stewart Middle School, I say we need that," Sanders said Monday during a community meeting at Greater Shiloh Baptist Church.
But, he added, find another location for it.


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