Welcome to the 2017-18 school year! To start this magical journey, I thought I'd share the following message which was in last Thursday's Westlake Picayune.
As I enter my fourth year as Superintendent of Eanes ISD, I can truly state I have never been more excited about the possibilities for a school year. We are fortunate to live in a community where those before us created a rich and magical learning experience for children. In particular, we have some new opportunities for the 2017-18 school year as well as the ability to enhance the experiences students will have in our existing programs. I will break it down into four categories: Elementary, middle, high school and district. For those readers with no children in our schools, the district news is potentially good for all taxpayers in Eanes ISD.
Elementary: After years of discussion and then one solid year of preparation, Eanes ISD will offer parents of kindergarten students the choice of participating in a language immersion program. At this time, more than 80 kindergarten students at Cedar Creek Elementary and Bridge Point Elementary will join our new Futuro program in Spanish Immersion. For these children, half of their day will consist of all instruction conducted in Spanish and the other half in English. The program we have designed is research-based and offers children the opportunity to become fluent in two languages during their years in Eanes ISD.
In the social-emotional domain, we have standardized our K-12 curriculum across all nine of our schools. We teach students resiliency skills, grit, respectful communication, proper use of technology, how to make healthy choices and how to treat all with civility and tolerance. This curricular focus will help our children develop into productive citizens. Our guaranteed curriculum in Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is found in all of our elementary, middle and high schools.
Middle School: This year we see some of the fruits of the successful 2015 Bond. In that referendum voters approved, by a 65-percent margin, the renovations and expansion of our fine arts facilities at both middle schools. We are proud to have a robust K-12 program in the arts. At the middle schools, we have more than 300 students taking drama classes at HCMS and 300-plus students in choir at WRMS. To accommodate the large student interest, our facilities needed expansion and renovation. The 2015 bond allowed us the ability to transform these areas. Our students will enjoy their new spaces on day one of this school year and we will welcome the entire community to an open house to explore these new spaces in the early fall.
We will continue stressing the importance of developing our students' communication skills throughout our K-12 program. While we may not be able to accurately predict exactly what the world will look like 50 to 60 years from now, we are confident the ability to communicate effectively will not lose its relevance. For one to be persuasive or informative, one needs to develop his or her critical thinking skills, know how to research topics and issues, and to formulate and articulate opinions. Written and oral communication is an essential skill for all students. At times, learning will appropriately incorporate technology and presentation software, at other times, the pen and paper will suffice. With our curriculum now aligned both vertically and horizontally through all nine of our schools, we are confident students are developing these critical communication skills.
High School: Last year was year one of our new Westlake Business Incubator course. With the generous support of private community financial contributions, we built a state-of-the-art business incubator room in the heart of Westlake HS. Not only did members of the community contribute the funding but they also donated their time. More than 60 members of the community agreed to either co-teach lessons in their areas of business expertise or to mentor teams of students as they formed their startup companies. We were excited at least four student companies received funding last year. These students will now enter year two of the Accelerator Course, where their companies will be off to a supported start as they work with their mentors. This year we have more than 150 students enrolled in the intro Westlake Business Incubator Course. We are confident year two will inspire our entire community.
This will be the first full year students in our high school robotics course will be housed in its new space. Our new robotics classroom, lab and workshop is truly something to see. Our students will live in a very automated world. Eanes ISD is committed to preparing them to be successful in this new technologically-advanced society.
We are thrilled students who are part of Technical Entertainment Crew (TEC) will have two new opportunities this year. First, by early winter we will have a new video wall in the Performing Arts Center at WHS. The TEC students, working alongside students in our graphics and performing arts classes will create a captivating experience in their stage appearances this year.
In addition, with our recent signing of a contract with KXAN, our TEC students will have the opportunity for their broadcasts of Westlake HS football games to reach the widest audience ever with delayed telecasts each Saturday night on KBVO-TV. This is an honor for all involved in Friday Night Lights at Westlake HS, from the football team, cheerleaders and band to the talented TEC students filming and editing behind the action.
The high school co-curricular experiences and our dynamic arts programs will continue to enhance the student experience. Niche rankings recently named Eanes ISD the 7th Best School District in the United States, while US News & World Report continues to grade Westlake HS as one of the best in the country. These are not flukes. Our committed K-12 staff and such talented students continue to achieve and perform among the best in Texas and the United States.
District: As you have read above, great things are happening in Eanes ISD for students and staff. This year we will also focus on our ongoing commitment to fiscal responsibility to Eanes ISD taxpayers. Throughout the year, your Board of Trustees, as representatives of the entire community, developed legislative priorities and met with elected officials to advocate for the proper funding of education. As you may know, the Texas Legislature will probably not do much to increase our funding and the current funding formula will continue to send more of our local funds to the state through recapture. Two weeks ago, the Board unanimously directed the administration to do the work necessary to prepare a proposal for the November 2017 ballot. If successful, this measure will help us meet our shared commitments to the children of Eanes ISD and the entire community. If this proposal is approved by voters, the referendum will lower the overall tax rate in Eanes ISD. At the same time, with the addition of non-recapturable "Golden Pennies," the ballot issue will increase the local dollars we have to fund our schools. This means more money will stay in Eanes ISD instead of going back to the state. You will be hearing more on this effort in the coming weeks.
Obviously, there is a lot happening in Eanes ISD. We believe our schools are the heart and soul of the community. I am confident our staff will maintain a vibrant heartbeat through this school year. Sit back and be proud of what your schools and community will accomplish together in the magical months ahead.
Dr. Tom Leonard