Trustees approve new teaching positions, hear report on growth

By SHELLY WILKISON

Liberty Hill school trustees on Monday created four new teaching positions at the high school that administrators say are needed to meet new graduation requirements and accommodate growth in enrollment.

Passed by state lawmakers in 2013, the omnibus education bill, House Bill 5, made sweeping changes to the Texas Education Code (TEC) in a number of areas including curriculum, accountability, assessment and accreditation. Among those changes were new graduation requirements that become effective with the freshman class entering high school in fall 2014.

Under the new plan, students will graduate with endorsements in various areas — Arts & Humanities, Business & Industry, Multidisciplinary Studies, Public Services or Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM). Students aiming to graduate “Distinguished” making them eligible for Top 10 percent college admission will have to complete Algebra II on top of the required coursework for an endorsement.

For Liberty Hill, the changes combined with increasing numbers of students mean more courses will be offered beginning next fall and more teachers will be required.

Trustees authorized the creation of four new positions — English/Journalism, Art, American Sign Language and Social Studies.

“We went from four by four (four years of math and four years of English) as being college ready to a plan that looks to prepare for different career routes,” said Curriculum Director Claudeane Braun. “It includes a more cohesive sequence of pathways (to a career).”

Mrs. Braun said in many cases, a student may be able to graduate from high school with an endorsement that will be sufficient to obtain a job without going to a four-year university.   For example, completion of classes in health sciences could prepare students for jobs as pharmacy techs or certified phlebotomy techs and registered nurse aides. Students might also earn certification as a veterinary assistant, as well as certificates for hunter safety and boating safety.

“This is a big change for us,” said Superintendent Rob Hart. “It (new graduation plan) will require all of us (school districts) to add staff.”

With the new teaching positions in the fall, the high school will be able to offer the following new courses: Art Appreciation, Discrete Math, Business English, Journalism, Video Game Design, Web Design and Veterinary Medical Applications. Additionally, TSI English and TSI Math will be offered as a requirement for seniors who have not met the college-ready standard. The TSI courses are required by HB 5.

Ms. Braun said having a journalism pathway for an endorsement allows the yearbook to be moved out of the technology department so that a technology endorsement can be offered. With more students, more English classes are needed and the new teacher will have sections of English, journalism and yearbook.

The new art position allows the district to offer an Arts and Humanities endorsement. Currently, art classes are large and many who request the class, and turned away. With a second teacher, the high school can offer Art Appreciation and lower class sizes.

Mrs. Braun said American Sign Language (ASL) has become one of the most popular classes among students. This year, more than 80 requests to take the class were denied. Having a second teacher will give more students the option.

The additional social studies position is needed to relieve large class sizes, and to prepare for the likelihood that Austin Community College will no longer provide an economics class on campus.

“We are operating on the assumption that ACC won’t provide an economics teacher again,” Mrs. Braun said. With an additional social studies teacher, “we can start a pre-law pathway in the future with psychology, sociology and economics.”

Another future pathway for an endorsement in audio/video production will also be considered, she said.

As Trustees considered the need for additional teaching staff, Dr. Hart presented a report on school district growth during the last quarter of 2013.

The study, which is conducted for LHISD quarterly by School District Strategies, examines housing activity in the district and compares it to area growth. The school district uses the study to project future enrollment.

According to the report, there were 36 housing starts and 37 closings in the fourth quarter — the highest fourth quarter totals in six years. The fourth quarter gain resulted in totals of 188 starts and 143 closings in 2013 — an increase of 110 starts and 60 closings in the last two years. Hart said the gap between the starts and closings remains at a “healthy” level.

When compared to other school districts in the Austin area, Liberty Hill ranked 13 in the number of new home closings in 2013. Leander was first with 1,699 closings followed by Round Rock with 1,333 and Austin with 1,323.

Hart said the study showed Liberty Hill was only one closing behind San Marcos Consolidated, which he said was the fastest growing city in the country. Jarrell was behind Liberty Hill with 140 closings and Bastrop was ranked 15 with 99 closings.

The study also ranked the top selling subdivisions in the school district with Rancho Siena first with 63 closings in 2013. The study showed 1,417 lots are still available there.

Stonewall Ranch was second with 24 closings and Cierra Vista was third with 11 closings.

Hart said most new homes in the school district are being built in the price range of $251,000 to $300,000 and in 2013 the median price of a new home was $282,033. The Greater Austin median price of a new home was $244,014.

“It’s a different kind of growth that we’re getting,” Hart said, adding that there are 743 fully developed vacant lots on the ground and 12,519 total future residential lots planned for the school district.

“When it’s all built out, we will add more than 6,000 students,” Hart said.

When it came to resale homes in 2013, there were 282 — an increase of 13 percent over 2012. The study showed the median resale price in 2013 was $247,500, and the average number of days on the market dropped from 92 in 2012 to 78 in 2013.

“What we’ve been predicting, looking at and concerned about the last few years is here,” Hart said.

In other business Monday, the Board approved a resolution regarding a five-year financing agreement for the purchase of three new school buses. To keep the fleet updated, the district has been purchasing two new buses each year in recent years.

Hart said this year, three new vehicles are needed. Currently, buses are transporting some 200 students daily east of Ronald Reagan Blvd., most into Gabriel’s Overlook. He said more buses will also be need to transport athletes and band members as the district changes in the fall and teams must travel farther.

In other matters this week, school trustees approved resolution cancelling the May 10 trustee election and declared incumbents Mike Bowles and Clay Cole re-elected. Both were unopposed at the filing deadline Feb. 28.

The Board also approved a resolution approving payment to all employees who were prevented form working on scheduled work days because of inclement weather. The State has already approved a waiver exempting the district from making up additional days beyond the two allowed in the official calendar.

The Board held its monthly meeting at Bill Burden Elementary School Monday where students who participated in UIL academic meet in January were recognized for their achievements. Those students were featured in a previous edition of The Independent.

Following a 30-minute executive session, the Board renewed the contracts of all professional personnel.

Trustee Alphie Perrin was not present Monday.