Waco ISD names new principal for South Waco Elementary

By Josh Wucher

South Waco Elementary School is welcoming Lauren Frasure as its newest principal. Frasure is currently an assistant principal at Cesar Chavez Middle School, where she has worked for nine years. 

Lauren Frasure

“I’m looking forward to continuing the rich history established at South Waco,” Frasure said. “I am eager to help our staff be the best versions of themselves in order to help our Spartans grow academically, socially, and emotionally in the coming school years.”

Frasure has served in a number of roles at Cesar Chavez including teacher, instructional specialist, dean, and assistant principal. She taught sixth-grade math in Killeen ISD before joining Waco ISD.

“While at Cesar Chavez, Lauren has spent almost a decade building relationships with students who attended South Waco Elementary,” Dr. Susan Kincannon, Waco ISD superintendent said. “These strong connections, along with the knowledge and skills that she has developed to analyze student achievement data and coach for effective instruction, will serve Lauren well as she leads the South Waco Elementary campus.”

Frasure received a bachelor of science in education with a specialization in middle school mathematics from Baylor University and a master’s degree in education from Lamar University. Recently, she was part of the inaugural group of Waco ISD’s Academy for Aspiring School Leaders, a professional development program launched in February to recruit, train, support and retain high-quality leaders.

Joshua Wucher is Waco ISD’s executive director for communications.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Waco ISD feeding the future with Summer Food Service Program

By Maddie McNamee

On June 14, the Waco ISD Summer Food Service Program returned to Waco with promises to provide meals for all children ages 1-18, regardless of their enrollment in school. The program, which has been in effect in Waco for a few years now, was a saving grace for many families last year who were financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Food insecurity became a global issue as income began to dwindle and everyday expenses remained. The Summer Food Service Program took some of the financial burden away from struggling caretakers and ensured that no child would have to worry where their next meal came from. 

Summer meals are being served at Crestview Elementary School Friday morning, as well as at 37 other Waco ISD locations.

With the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and the end of the pandemic in sight, Waco seems to be showing signs of healing. Businesses are reopening, restrictions are being lifted, and people are reuniting with their loved ones. Going for a quick drive around Waco only to get stuck in traffic feels like things are slowly going back to normal.

Despite these returns to normalcy, food insecurity is still a very real and prevalent problem in Waco. An issue before the coronavirus, the challenge of putting food on the table, only became greater when the world went into lockdown. It is easy to wish for things to go back to normal, but it is also important to remember that while the option to go to a restaurant is now available, not everyone has the financial ability to do so after such a challenging year.

The Waco Independent School District identified these difficulties that residents of Waco were facing and not only brought the Summer Food Service Program back, but expanded it substantially, making it easier for children to have access to a free breakfast and lunch seven days a week. With 38 locations serving the free meals at designated times, every child in Waco should have the opportunity to enjoy the return of a semi-normal summer without the pangs of hunger. 

The service will run Monday through Friday, with the exception of July 5, when it will close for the Independence Day holiday. Packaged meals will be available to pick up for the weekend on Fridays. With the return of school in the fall, the program will end August 18. For more information on service times, locations, and updates, you can head to https://www.wacoisd.org/summermeals. Many of these schools are seeking volunteers and if you would like to help operate a Summer Food Service Program site, check out https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/summer-food-service-program to see if you are eligible. 

Maddie McNamee is a creative writing intern with Act Locally Waco. She is a student-athlete at Baylor University and is pursuing a major in Professional Writing and Rhetoric. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Waco ISD celebrates Class of 2021 at commencement ceremonies

By Josh Wucher

More than 750 Waco ISD seniors from Waco, University, and Brazos high schools crossed the stage during graduation ceremonies this weekend at the district’s athletic complex. 

University High School Commencement

Waco ISD joined parents, family, and friends in recognizing graduates as they capped off their high school experience as the Class of 2021. It was a special celebration of all that the students had accomplished.

“My heart is filled with pride,” Dr. Susan Kincannon, Waco ISD superintendent, expressed to seniors. “How this class, the Class of 2021, has met this moment is inspiring. You have reinvented traditions like prom, embraced new ways of learning, overcome quarantines, and excelled.”

The Class of 2021’s resilience throughout the pandemic was a topic of many graduation speeches.

“We thrived because we did not give up despite all the obstacles we had to overcome,” Emily Alvarado, University High School salutatorian said. “We all went through experiences that changed us, but helped shape us to who we are today.”

Waco High School Salutatorian Bonnie Gibson echoed that sentiment.

Waco High School Commencement

“Saying that this year has been unusual would be quite the understatement,” she said. “Yet in spite of it all, we have made it to this day. … As you enter into a new chapter of life, face whatever challenges that may come with determination and perseverance.”

Karin Rodriguez and Evelyn Guevara, University and Waco high school valedictorians respectively, acknowledged how much their families helped guide them on their 13-year educational journey, as well as honored their Hispanic heritage.

“I personally am proud of my Hispanic origin and proud to be a son of Mexican immigrants, who traveled here to make a better life for me and my brothers,” Rodriguez said. “Even though they had their own hardships and came home from work tired and drained, they constantly pushed me to do my best. … Because of their constant support, I am forever grateful.”

Guevara, Waco High’s first Hispanic female valedictorian, similarly shared a pride in being a first-generation student.

“Thank you to my parents, who immigrated to the United States with nothing, to give me everything. This is for you and by you,” she said. “As much as we have grown and matured over the years, Waco ISD has grown alongside us. They have given us the opportunities and the platform to become the best version of ourselves … I am very proud to say that I am a product of Waco ISD for this reason.”

Speaking to that foundational vision of supporting students, School Board Vice President Stephanie Korteweg said Waco High’s Class of 2021 represents the latest chapter in the school’s history, which dates back more than a century to a building on Columbus Avenue.

“While the location has changed over the years and new buildings have replaced old, the school’s legacy of preparing students to succeed beyond its walls remains constant,” she said. 

Korteweg also emphasized the united team of University staff and administrators, along with friends and families, who have encouraged and guided students throughout their time in Waco ISD.

“This community won’t come to an end when you walk across this stage,” she said. “You will share these moments with your fellow graduates for the rest of your life, and no matter where that life takes you, we will be cheering you on.” 

Principals concluded each ceremony with words of wisdom they typically share during morning announcements.

“We encourage you to remember two things: [Our Goal] Love, Serve, and Care; and Once a Trojan, Always a Trojan,” Ricky Edison, principal of University High, said.

“Graduates, know your worth; know the greatness that you possess. You are here to win; you are born to win,” James Stewart, principal of Waco High, said.

Joshua Wucher is Waco ISD’s executive director for communications.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Hard work can pay off faster with ExpressPath at MCC

Editor’s Note: McLennan Community College will host an ExpressPath Open House Saturday, June 12, 10 a.m.-noon, in the China Spring High School cafeteria highlighting an extensive list of certificate and occupational skills award options that can be completed in one year or less at MCC. Representatives will be available to help new students complete the application and enrollment process. Interested individuals are encouraged to schedule an appointment for the Open House at www.mclennan.edu/expresspath/<http://www.mclennan.edu/expresspath/> to ensure proper physical distancing. Face coverings will also be required. For more information about the Open House, contact Highlander Central at 254-299-8622 or [email protected].

By Madison Schick

Waiting on the return of “normal” has become a commonplace reference to describe the millions of people nationwide who are hoping for brighter, mask-free days filled with hugs and handshakes. However, even in less abnormal times that don’t involve a pandemic, it’s clear that lots of people are waiting on something. 

Some are waiting for the perfect time to start their new health goals, others for the courage to go back to school. Many are guilty of commemorating the holiday-season countdown by buying decorations beginning mid-July. Whether one wants to start their career or win the neighborhood yard competition, there’s no time like the present. 

To start sooner rather than later, to save money and time, and to increase earning potential through education: these are the founding principles of MCC’s ExpressPath program. 

Vocational degrees and certificates are not new to higher education, but an upsurge in salaries and employment opportunities have made these programs recent topics of conversation – and a major reason why both traditional and non-traditional learners choose community colleges. 

Quality training for in-demand jobs, affordable tuition and a swift timeline allow students to learn skills faster to earn money sooner. Certificates may be complementary to prior skills learned on the job, supplemental to other degrees, or qualify students to perform their job immediately upon completion.

In an earlier blog post, MCC President Johnette McKown reflected that students can go anywhere after MCC. This is true with ExpressPath certificates and skills awards, as these certificates can get students started in their professions sooner, allowing them to acquire additional skills, certificates, and degrees within a shorter timeframe while earning money. 

ExpressPath at MCC further destigmatizes the notion that technical certificates are only applicable to those who wish to work in healthcare or industry, such as plumbing or electrical services. Accounting, firefighting, child development, paramedicine, and interpreter training certificates are only a few of the certificates available that advance working professionals and aspiring students alike. 

MCC aims to help people take a step, possibly even a jump, towards their future with ExpressPath programs. To learn more about ExpressPath and our upcoming Open Houses, visit https://www.mclennan.edu/expresspath/

Madison Schick is social media and communications specialist at McLennan Community College. A literature enthusiast and graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Madison studied environmental science, English, and history, and still loves all things related to reading and writing.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Dean named principal at Hillcrest PDS

By Josh Wucher

Hillcrest PDS Elementary School is welcoming Haley Dean as its newest principal. Dean is currently an assistant principal at Lake Air Montessori Magnet School, a position she has served in for the previous three years.

Haley Dean

“It’s been my joy and honor to call Lake Air home for over a decade,” Dean said. “I’m very excited to continue my journey as the next leader of Hillcrest’s amazing campus. My wish is to lead with the heart of a mother, mind of an educator and spirit of a servant leader.” 

Dean holds nearly 20 years of experience as an educator, more than half of which at Lake Air as a teacher, instructional coach, and assistant principal. She began her career in Conroe ISD as a fifth- and sixth-grade math and science teacher at Travis Intermediate School and then began teaching seventh- and eighth-grade math at Peet Junior High. She joined Waco ISD in 2009 as a sixth-grade math teacher at Lake Air Intermediate School.

“Haley has done a superb job as assistant principal at Lake Air, and I am confident she’ll continue empowering our staff to meet the needs of students and families in her new role at Hillcrest,” Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon said. “She is well versed in supporting the professional growth and development of our teachers. And I’m excited to see the dynamic leadership that she’ll bring to Hillcrest.”

Dean received a bachelor of science in interdisciplinary studies at Lamar University and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Texas at Arlington. 

“Waco ISD has tremendous, hardworking staff who all want what is best for our students,” 

Dean said. “I look forward to furthering our commitment to provide spaces where students know they belong and will have challenging learning experiences.”

Dean, who is succeeding Jennifer Lundquist, will begin her role in July. 

Joshua Wucher is Waco ISD’s executive director for communications.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Waco ISD recognizes 2020–21 outstanding teachers

Kendrick Elementary’s Isabel Lozano also announced as Principal of the Year.

By Joshua Wucher

Waco ISD celebrated top educators in May during a special virtual Outstanding Teacher ceremony. The annual event honors all of the district’s teachers of the year for their deep commitment to student success.

“Our outstanding teachers exemplify excellence in the classroom,” said Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon. “They create unique, hands-on experiences that make instruction engaging for students and help them grow. They are shining examples of what it means to meet our mission to provide an educational foundation that empowers and values all.”

Among the educators recognized, were Bell’s Hill Elementary School first-grade teacher Lindsey Melancon and University High School ninth-grade Pre-AP biology teacher Lacey Merrifield, the district’s outstanding elementary and secondary teachers of the year, respectively.

“A successful teacher has to display a level of enthusiasm and passion for what is being taught,” said Melancon, who has taught at Bell’s Hill for eight years. “I strongly believe if we can motivate young minds, then we have created life-long learners.”

Bell’s Hill Principal Rebekah Mechell describes Melancon as an educator that “goes above and beyond to serve her students, their parents and other staff” and creates a warm and positive culture.

“I believe in immersive learning that places students in local cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences that can create cross-curricular connections,” said Merrifield, who coaches junior varsity softball and freshman volleyball and has been teaching for 13 years.

“Coach Merrifield continues to challenge her students daily,” said University High School Principal Dr. Ricky Edison. “She routinely engages the students in rigorous coursework and hands-on projects. She has so much passion and energy that students just gravitate to her.”

At the ceremony, the district also honored Kelly Miah, a third-grade teacher at Hillcrest PDS, and David Gerada, an assistant band director at Cesar Chavez Middle School, as the Virginia DuPuy First Year Teachers of the Year.

Like the district’s outstanding teacher awards, the recipients of the Virginia DuPuy First Year Teacher of the Year awards are nominated by their respective campuses. Named for the former mayor and advocate for public education, the awards recognize one elementary and one secondary teacher, who are starting their careers in education.

Jennifer Lundquist, principal at Hillcrest PDS, describes Miah as having “a passion to motivate students to learn and a drive to give 110% to everything she does.”

Similarly, Cesar Chavez Principal Alonzo McAdoo, says Gerada “is an incredible teacher whose actions, level of commitment and ability to be here consistently for our students encourages us all to be anchored in student success.”

Another exciting celebration happened this month at the district’s principal leadership meeting where Kendrick Elementary School’s Isabel Lozano was surprised with the announcement that she was selected as the 2020-2021 Waco ISD Principal of the Year.

“My parents instilled in me that hard work plus determination equals success,” Lozano said. “This is a humbling experience, and I feel blessed to live and work in a community that puts our kids first.”

Lozano is in her third year as principal of Kendrick Elementary School. She has previously served as a classroom teacher, instructional specialist, academic advising coordinator, middle school assistant principal, and high school assistant principal.

Kincannon said: “With a heart for children and their families, Mrs. Lozano represents the best
kind of leader in Waco ISD. I have no doubt that many of our students can see themselves and
find inspiration in Isabel’s journey to the principalship.”

A recording of the full ceremony is available here.

Joshua Wucher is Waco ISD’s executive director for communications.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Community committee recommends big changes for four Waco ISD schools

The district’s school board will now consider whether to replace Waco High, G.W. Carver Middle, Tennyson Middle and Kendrick Elementary with new buildings.

By Joshua Wucher

For the past five months, a committee of more than 60 parents, educators, and other community members has been studying Waco ISD’s long-term facilities needs. Monday night, May 24, that group concluded their process by recommending that the district consider replacing four campuses with new buildings.

WISD’s Community Advisory Committee tours the facilities of Waco High School with O’Connell Robertson Architects, Dr. Kincannon, committee members, and campus staff.

Early in the committee’s process, members began focusing on some of the district’s oldest buildings: Waco High built in 1961, G.W. Carver and Tennyson middle schools built in the 1950s, and Kendrick Elementary built in 1952. While all four campuses have had some renovations in the intervening decades, the committee concluded that the buildings do not meet the educational needs of today’s students and that it makes more sense to replace the existing campuses with new buildings at their current location than to incur the high maintenance costs anticipated over the next 10 to 15 years.

In some cases, the committee also discussed replacing existing campuses with larger buildings that could serve more students and, in doing so, offer more academic programs while reducing administrative costs. One possibility discussed was to build a replacement for G.W. Carver Middle that would be large enough to accommodate the students currently attending both G.W. Carver and Indian Spring middle schools. Another was to build a larger Kendrick Elementary that could also serve many of the students now attending Alta Vista Elementary.

The architectural firm hired by Waco ISD to advise the committee estimates that building a new high school, two new middle schools and a new elementary school along with renovations at an existing elementary school could cost $376.1 million. The district’s financial advisor told the committee that issuing bonds to pay for those projects would increase the district’s tax rate about 12.49 cents per $100 of assessed valuation or $12.23 per month for the average homeowner in Waco ISD.

Architects will present the community advisory committee’s recommendations to the school board in June. This summer, the school board will review the recommendations and decide which projects to move forward as well as whether to seek voter approval to issue bonds to pay for the construction of new schools. For that question to appear on the ballot this November, the school board would need to call a bond election by mid-August.

“I am deeply appreciative of the community advisory committee members who volunteered their time to take an in-depth look at our school buildings and whether or not they are meeting the needs of our students,” Angela Tekell, board president, said. “As school board members, we are stewards of the investment that our community has made in our schools. The schools don’t belong to us; they belong to this community. That’s why it is so important for the board to hear from a broad range of voices as we develop a plan to guide our facilities work in the years ahead.”

“Education has changed since the 1950s and 1960s,” said Dr. Susan Kincannon, superintendent. “We need to prepare all of our kids to compete in the modern workforce, and we need modern schools to do that. In their discussions, the community advisory committee expressed a deep commitment to making sure that every student in Waco ISD has access to a safe learning environment that truly meets their needs. These recommendations are an important step in that direction.”

Joshua Wucher is Waco ISD’s executive director for communications.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Waco’s economic future hinges on post-high school education, training

By Hermann Pereira

I have spent the past 15 years in public education, and I never really realized how much our economic future hinges upon post-high school enrollment and completion rates. But when you break it down you realize that how well we prepare our students today directly impacts the economics of our community. 

We must focus on getting students to and through post-secondary education and into our local workforce. A recent data set that I received from an education-focused organization named Commit shows the unemployment and two-year institution enrollment for the past 20 years. It is amazing to see the rates run parallel up until 2019 when those two lines invert. Many factors have caused this, but what we know is that the pandemic will only accentuate these trends. 

This data is not meant to scare anyone but to show that this is an issue we need to embrace. We, as a community, must find new and innovative ways to partner with our higher education institutions. Getting students to and through higher education will lead us to more robust workforce pipelines in our community. 

At the state level there is legislation that is attempting to support these efforts. SB2111 and HB 2030 are companion bills that are focused on creating regional talent pipelines. This will give incentives to local partnerships and institutions of higher education that would support students to and through higher education and into the workforce. HB 2030 has passed the house, but we are waiting for SB 2111 to receive a hearing. 

Waco Foundation and Prosper Waco have embarked on a journey to complete a landscape analysis of college access and success in McLennan County. This quantitative and qualitative data analysis will provide a picture of the current state of the local support system for college access and success. Our goals are to:

  • Identify strengths, challenges, and areas for strategic improvement of the local support   system for college access and success;
  • Identify which service areas are strong and where there are gaps; and
  • Bring together community stakeholders to collaboratively address systemic issues.

Prosper Waco is committed to the success of all students in McLennan County. If you have any questions or want to discuss education in our community please reach out to me at [email protected].

Hermann Pereira is chief program officer for Prosper Waco and leads the nonprofit’s efforts in education and workforce development.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Texas Tech – Waco celebrates first graduates from College of Education

By Madison Black

This month, the first group of students completing their Bachelor of Science in Multidisciplinary Studies at Texas Tech University at Waco received their degrees. On May 4, these eight students were recognized at a ceremony at the Conference Center at McLennan Community College. 

Graduates received an abundance of guidance from Texas Tech University Site Coordinator Dr. Brandi Ray, who worked with La Vega and Lorena ISDs to pair students with mentor teachers. 

“It is a wonderful opportunity to work with these school districts to prepare students to become exceptional teachers,” Ray said. “The benefits from this will have a lasting impact on the community.”

For the past two years, these students have taught alongside their mentor teachers in the classroom, learning what it takes to successfully teach middle school math. These mentors, as well as additional school personnel and family members, joined graduates as they received their graduation cords at the ceremony.

Dr. Lewis Snell, director of Texas Tech University at Waco, said of the milestone, “I am always looking for success stories to share with our administrative team and the graduates in Cohort 1 are all success stories. I can’t wait to see where they end up teaching next year.”

Several graduates of the program have already signed teaching contracts with local school districts for the upcoming school year.

For more information, please contact Dr. Snell at 254-299-8324 or visit www.depts.ttu.edu/waco.

Madison Schick is social media and communications specialist at McLennan Community College. A literature enthusiast and graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Madison studied environmental science, English, and history, and still loves all things related to reading and writing.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

MCC saves money by refunding bonds

By Lisa Elliott

The McLennan Community College Board of Trustees decided during its February 2021 meeting to take advantage of the low interest rate environment in both the taxable and tax-exempt bond markets and to refund several of the MCC’s outstanding bonds. The refunding transactions will save MCC and taxpayers a total of $2.6 million over the remaining life of the bonds.

The limited tax refunding bond transaction provided the majority of the savings. The College refunded $24.5 million in outstanding limited tax bonds. This refunding generated gross savings of $2.26 million, which has a net present value of $2 million. This savings directly impacts MCC’s property tax rate, which is comprised of two portions: a maintenance and operations rate, which helps operate MCC, and an interest and sinking fund rate, which provides revenue to service tax-backed debt.

The revenue-refunding bond transaction was a smaller refunding with $2.38 million. This refunding generated gross savings of $352,395, which has a net present value of $333,555. Revenue bond debt service is paid by MCC from a combination of resources — tuition and fees, auxiliary revenues, and interest income. Savings on revenue bond debt service allows resources to be directed to other programmatic priorities of the College.

MCC prides itself on being financially responsible, and with the guidance of our financial advisors at RBC Capital Markets, this decision shows a continued commitment by the Board of Trustees for the responsible use of financial resources.

For more information, please contact Dr. Stephen Benson, Vice President of Finance & Administration at MCC, at [email protected] or 254-299-8679.

Lisa Elliott is director of marketing & communications for McLennan Community College.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].