LHISD prepares to open new school at Rancho Sienna
By SHELLY WILKISON
As the walls go up on the new Rancho Sienna Elementary School, school district officials are working to create student attendance boundaries and staff Liberty Hill’s newest elementary school.
The first decision was made two weeks ago when Melanie Bowman, current principal at Liberty Hill Elementary School, was named Principal at Rancho Sienna.
“I’m excited about this,” Bowman said, pointing to two large pink folders on her desk that she calls her “Rancho files.”
Bowman, who became Principal at “The Hill” (the Elementary campus) in 2014 after the retirement of longtime administrator Jan Tredemeyer, will serve in a dual role as principals at both campuses for the remainder of the school year. She said she is hoping her replacement at The Hill will be chosen soon to make for an easier transition.
With the opening of Rancho Sienna Elementary in August 2017, Liberty Hill ISD ushers in the community schools system whereby students in grades Pre-kindergarten through five will be on each of the three elementary campuses — Rancho Sienna, Liberty Hill Elementary and Bill Burden Elementary. Sixth graders will attend Liberty Hill Intermediate School.
Currently the campuses are divided by grade levels so that the Elementary campus serves pre-kindergarten through first grades, Bill Burden serves second through fourth grades, and the Intermediate School serves fifth and sixth grades.
The school district is hiring an outside firm to do an attendance audit of the district this spring to determine where the populations fall, including the impact new subdivisions will have on school enrollment.
“Based on that data, they will determine what numbers of students from what areas will be going to each campus,” Bowman said. “It’s very hard to do that in Liberty Hill right now because it’s changing so quickly.”
Bowman said she anticipates that the population audit will be conducted in March in order to collect the most timely data prior to the start of school, while giving parents plenty of time to adjust and plan for possible changes in schools.
In the meantime, however, Bowman is working closely with Bill Burden Principal Terrie Chambers and Intermediate Principal Kathy Major to put teaching staff in place at all campuses.
“We are taking teachers from here (Elementary), Bill Burden and the Intermediate and creating three separate campuses,” Bowman said. “So two-thirds of my teachers will be gone, two-thirds of Burden’s will be gone, and half of the Intermediate will be gone. So there is a lot change going to happen for staff.”
Bowman said additional teaching positions may be needed depending on the results of the audit. But it is certain that new positions will be created for support staff at Rancho Sienna, including office staff, nurse, librarian, counselor, IT, cafeteria and custodial positions.
“And change can bring anxiety, so we’re putting steps in place and a transfer process that allows staff the opportunity to voice a choice about where they are in the coming transitions,” she said.
Ultimately, however, each teaching assignment will be made by the three principals, as well as Bowman’s replacement at Elementary when that position is filled.
“Our ultimate goal is to serve our kids. So we will look at all those requests and look at building needs and look at staffing numbers,” she said. “We need to make sure that we’re strong academically across the board, so we want to have strong teachers at every campus that have like experiences and expertise so we do offer the same thing to all Liberty Hill kids.”
Teachers and professional staff at each of the current three campuses were given a deadline of Jan. 31 to submit requests for transfer. Principals will consider those who don’t make such a request as content to stay in place, Bowman said.
Bowman said when she first interviewed for the principal’s position two years ago, Superintendent Rob Hart noted the school district’s rapid growth and informed her that additional campuses would be needed.
Bowman, who came to Liberty Hill from Round Rock ISD, had experience as a teacher and assistant principal with opening three schools in that district. Since her first interview with Hart, she decided she wanted to be part of that.
“I had in the back of my mind what an exciting adventure this would be,” she said. “I’ve seen this happen from the ground up three times and there’s such an incredible opportunity to build community and common vision, and the excitement that goes along with a new building.”
Bowman said the staff at the Elementary campus have been supportive and weren’t surprised when they heard she had been chosen to make the move. Many expressed an interest in moving with her to Rancho Sienna.
She said the principals will talk with everyone interested in transferring before making assignments for the new school year.
“It’s an opportunity to sit down and have a conversation about what they’re looking for in a campus home, what bring to a leadership role to the campus, then take all that information and make sure our campuses are balanced — that we have experienced teachers, that we have teachers who want to be in leadership roles, that we have teachers who want to be in service roles — a little bit of everything across the board.”
Bowman said that while the current plan is to offer pre-kindergarten at each of the elementary campuses, the audit may determine otherwise.
“It’s a qualifying program and not every student qualifies,” she said.
She said having three campuses will alleviate some of the stress off the transportation department.
“We can actually run elementary runs close to home then come back and do secondary, which fiscally helps the district, but also timewise helps kids get home in a shorter amount of time,” she said. “The idea is that whatever school you live around that’s the only place that bus will travel, whereas right now we’re 100 square miles, so some kiddos get on very early and get off very late.”
The student population at both Rancho Sienna and Bill Burden is expected to be from 600-700, compared with 400-500 at Liberty Hill Elementary.
The Elementary campus will get a makeover this summer thanks to the same bond election that is funding the new school at Rancho Sienna.
Improvements to the school’s entry making it more secure is the priority, but all classrooms will get new floors, walls and ceilings, as well as technology upgrades. During the winter break, all classrooms were equipped with 60-inch monitors.
Bowman said the same technology that will be installed at Rancho will be put in place at Liberty Hill Elementary.
Bowman said that although she doesn’t know yet who her students or staff will be, she is working on building relationships with the community to keep them informed of the big changes ahead.
“This is one big family, and we’re all Panthers,” she said. “I look forward to incorporating things at Rancho that really do tie us back to the Liberty Hill community. I don’t want our proximity to downtown to make us different in any way.”