Bexar County students go back to school in waves this month

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Scarlet Cardenas, a fourth-grader at Bulverde Creek Elemen- tary, shops for a clear backpack at a North Side OfficeMax.

First-time teacher Kathy Brinkley plans to guide her 200 new Folks Middle School students by drawing inspiration from a history teacher who had a profound effect on her.

“He was the first one to really tell me college was an option for me,” said the incoming sixth-grade social studies teacher in Northside Independent School District. “I just wanted to be like him.”

And so a new school year begins.

When students across Bexar County return to the classroom this month, they will be welcomed by new teachers, leaders, schools, curriculums and security measures. The first wave of students returns next week, but teachers have spent weeks training and decorating classrooms to create comfortable learning environments.

Traditionally, independent school districts start school on the fourth Monday in August, but a recently passed state law has allowed them to adjust their start and end dates, leading to differing start dates across Bexar County.

San Antonio ISD will be the early bird this year, starting Monday. But some campuses with year-round schedules have already begun the school year.

Alamo Heights, Edgewood, Judson, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City, South San Antonio, Fort Sam Houston and Lackland ISDs start Aug. 20, followed by Randolph Field ISD on Aug. 23.

East Central, Harlandale, North East, Southwest, Somerset, Southside and Northside schools go back Aug. 27.

The academic year will bring with it new schools, reflecting growth in many districts.

Northside, the largest district in Bexar County, is opening Dr. Linda G. Mora Elementary School in the Amhurst subdivision on the far West Side. About 450 students are expected to attend.

Judson will unveil two new elementary campuses, but with staggered openings. Escondido Elementary will open this month, while Wortham Oaks Elementary will open in January. Each was built to enroll about 700 students, taking pressure off two other schools, Masters and Rolling Meadows, which were relying on portable classrooms, district spokesman Steve Linscomb said.

The district is also adding the final grade level at Veterans Memorial High School, which will graduate its first class in the spring.

Southwest will open the second high school out of at least five in the CAST network, established in Bexar County with startup funding from H-E-B. The new school, CAST STEM, will begin in a wing of Legacy High School with about 150 freshmen. They’ll focus on advanced manufacturing, engineering, logistics and energy. Those fields are typically male-dominated, but about 40 percent of the freshman class is female, Principal Aja Gardner said.

Irving Middle School in SAISD will reopen as Irving Dual Language Academy, the district’s second 100-percent dual language school. One class of eighth-graders remains from the comprehensive middle school, while the academy will open with prekindergarten through second grades. It will add a new grade every year until it serves pre-K through eighth grades.

A reconfiguration of Southside ISD, which voters funded in a bond election last year, will begin with the opening of Col. Miguel Menchaca Early Childhood Center for the district’s pre-K and kindergarten students. More than 700 of the district’s smallest children will attend classes in the $29 million building, with new technology, including iPads with augmented-reality books, district spokesman Randy Escamilla said.

Losoya Intermediate School has become Losoya Middle, with only sixth-graders this year as construction proceeds, Escamilla said. The district’s fifth-grade students, who would have attended Losoya, will remain at their elementary schools, where space has been freed up by the consolidation of all pre-K and kindergarteners at Menchaca. Losoya will eventually add seventh- and eighth-graders who would otherwise have attended Matthey Middle School.

In Schertz-Cibolo, Rose Garden Elementary will start classes in a new building in Schertz. The school will accommodate an additional 100 students, with a functional capacity of 810, district spokesman Ed Suarez said.

New leadership

Edgewood ISD is starting the year with a new superintendent. Eduardo Hernandez, previously of Duncanville ISD and Dallas ISD, was hired in June and began working in July.

Alamo Heights’ new superintendent, Dana Bashara, is no stranger to the district. She has worked there since she started teaching at Woodridge Elementary School in 1996.

Last month, Judson welcomed new school chief Jeanette Ball, who served as superintendent of Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District for five years. Ball previously taught English-language learners and history at McNair Middle School and held other positions in Southwest ISD.

South San will welcome a new superintendent during the coming school year. Abelardo Saavedra announced earlier this year that he would not seek an extension to his contract, expiring in March. Trustees plan to name a new superintendent as early as October.

New curriculums

Northside’s 14 middle schools are adopting a dance class that can replace a physical education class or serve as an elective for seventh- and eighth-graders. The dance class was piloted at several middle schools last year.

SAISD will have dual language programs in 45 schools, up from last year’s 13.

This fall, South San will debut specialized academies at its three middle schools, aimed at giving students more opportunities within the district. Zamora Middle School will be home to the health science academy, Dwight Middle School will house the STEM program and Shepard Middle School will have the fine arts program.

Officials at Schertz-Cibolo will expand its Career and Technical Education program, a priority to prepare students for college, careers or the military. Suarez said the district wants to make the program more “robust.”

New security measures

In the wake of high-profile school shootings, including at Santa Fe High School near Houston, several districts are implementing new security measures.

The biggest changes have been made at NEISD, where all middle and high schools students will be required to carry clear backpacks.

Darryl Whitfield (right) and his son, Glenn Whitfield, 17, a junior at Madison, shop for clear backpacks at OfficeMax, 17700 US Hwy 281 N, on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. NEISD has mandated that all student backpacks be clear at every high school and middle school in the district beginning in the fall of the 2018-2019 school year.

The district is implementing a buzz-in entry system, keeping external doors locked during school hours, and will conduct random handheld metal-detector searches.

Districts are also trying to better equip school counselors. NEISD counselors will undergo annual mental health training, and Schertz-Cibolo has added two social-emotional counselors at its junior high schools.

Over the summer, South San created a position for a district safety and security coordinator. Gary Long, a former assistant principal who oversaw security at South San High School, said his new role will encourage consistency in safety policies across 13 campuses. Long, who previously worked as a correctional officer, said his responsibilities will include documenting incidents, coordinating drills and fostering relationships with law enforcement agencies and the South San community.

Shifts in staff

Several districts have been forced to cut positions or implement hiring freezes in response to budgetary challenges and falling enrollment. SAISD laid off 132 teachers, and South San has proposed eliminating 22 teaching positions through attrition.

But throughout the county, new classes and classrooms, new students and personnel will converge for the new school year, including San Antonio’s fair share of new teachers.

Stevens High School teacher Michael Caston will be among them. He was inspired to become an educator after a teacher’s perceptive intervention changed the course of his son’s life.

A kindergarten teacher suspected that Caston’s son had a learning disability and needed special education. A single father, Caston was struck by the teacher’s words and worried about the challenges his son would face.

But a teacher in another classroom stepped in and told Caston she disagreed. They gave his son a laptop and adjusted learning methods. He excelled. The now-10th grader went on to enroll in gifted and talented classes.

“It changed my son’s life and it changed my life, and I want to be able to do that for someone else,” he said.

Lauren Caruba covers several school districts, charter schools and private universities in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | lcaruba@express-news.net | Twitter: @LaurenCaruba

Source: San Antonio Express-News By: Lauren Caruba, Alia Malik, and Krista Torralva