Preston Hollow Elementary is losing the battle to woo the middle- and upper-class families who live nearby. It's not unique in this regard. Sanger Elementary, you'll recall, was spurned by the coveted high-level-city-bureaucrat demographic, and other grade schools in Dallas' well-heeled 'hoods draw largely from poorer neighborhoods, while the local kids fill up elite private schools. But the numbers at Preston Hollow are pretty stark.
In 2007, the student body was 19 percent white. Today, it's 7.9 percent. In 2007, 75.9 percent was economically disadvantaged; by 2010, it was 85.9. That's hardly reflective of a school whose attendance zone is one of the whitest and richest in Dallas ISD.
There remains a strong core of neighborhood parents who remain committed to the school -- when I was at Preston Hollow People, I wrote about one who planted and mowed the soccer field -- but more families in Preston Hollow are opting for private school. The figure is above 90 percent in the cluster of half-million-dollar-plus homes at the heart of the neighborhood, according to Census statistics.
That's a trend DISD is hoping to reverse. The Dallas Morning News reported last week that trustees will consider adding an International Baccalaureate program, along with 100 magnet slots, to Preston Hollow. Franklin Middle School and Hillcrest High School are working on plans for IB programs of their own.
The IB program is a rigorous college-prep program. It's already in place at East Dallas' Woodrow Wilson High School.
"The thought process is that Dealey [a nearby magnet] every year has a waiting list of kids that can't get into it," says trustee Mike Morath, an outspoken advocate of IB programs. "A lot of those kids don't end up at other DISD schools. They end up at private schools."
For each student the district can woo to another campus, DISD gets additional funding from the state. Not that the schools are purely focused on the bottom line. For one, Preston Hollow's enrollment has been flagging despite a flood of out-of-zone kids from Vickery Meadow and the Bachman Lake area, who make up more than half of the student body. The magnet slots would fill up the extra space.
More than that, the reason an IB program might attract would-be private schoolers is that it's a "phenomenally rigorous college preparatory curriculum that gives kids a real detailed, critical thinking-focused education," Morath says.
Attaining IB status won't happen overnight. The application and review process is three years and requires intense preparation. Morath predicts it will also take a significant fundraising effort on the part of the neighborhood.
On that front, maybe Preston Hollow can take a cue from Lakewood.
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