Waldrip begins year two leading the way for Frisco ISD

An exclusive interview with superintendent Dr. Mike Waldrip.

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With his first year in the books, Frisco ISD Superintendent Mike Waldrip is embarking on his second year leading one of the fastest growing school districts in the country with new schools opening almost every year.

Recently, Wingspan sat down with Waldrip for an exclusive interview to discuss school safety, mental health, finances and the new GPA class rank system.

Wingspan: First, we’re gonna talk about school safety, because it’s been a pretty big emphasis with the district this year. The staff undergoes a lot of training prior to the school year, as far as school safety is concerned. Were there any changes in that training?

I think that our staff is prepared to deal with those situations should they arise,”

— Dr. Waldrip

Waldrip: “Actually, we’ve been doing active shooter training for years. We did increase the number of times we’re offering it I mean, we’re actually having people in this building go through active shooter training. So we’re incorporating more people in our school district in the training that we’ve been doing for a long time.”

Wingspan: What do you hope that students, parents, and the Frisco community understands about active shooter training?

Waldrip: “Well, just that I think that our staff is prepared to deal with those situations should they arise and Heaven forbid they should ever arise, but working with law enforcement on how to deal with those situations properly. And I think even more importantly, some of the other things we’re doing as well to help with regard to student safety. I think I would like them to know there are a lot of things going on and some things we won’t talk about but there’s some things we certainly want them to know about.”

Wingspan: So next we’re gonna transition into mental health. First question: how do you think students mental health will be affected by the removal of rank?

Waldrip: “Well, that was one of the big issues from my Student Advisory Committee. I had 27 students on my Superintendent’s Student Advisory Committee. And one of the overriding issues they wanted to deal with was rank and GPA. And they shared numerous personal stories and of course stories about their friends and classmates about the stress that was caused by the rank and GPA system that we had in place. And so we spent the entire year last year working with that group, working with teachers and counselors and administrators on revamping and reshaping our rank and GPA process. And we took a lot of the suggestions from the student group and put those in place. So I think that it will help alleviate a lot of stress for our students this year and moving forward.”

Wingspan: Why, especially recently, why has there been such an emphasis on counselors at these schools, focusing on students mental health?

With 42 elementary schools, 17 middle schools, and 10 high schools, Dr. Waldrip oversees one of the fastest growing school districts in the country as approximately 60,000 students attend school in Frisco ISD.

Waldrip: “I think one of the best ways we can spend our money with regard to student safety is through identification, intervention and prevention. And what that means basically is, is that if we can identify students are struggling, that are having issues and get them assistance, either we can assist them through our school system, or we can get them outside assistance. And, make their families aware because a lot of times, parents just don’t know sometimes if their students are struggling with things. So if we can put a lot of resources and we have a lot of resources into that area, I think it will benefit not only the student, but I think other students as well, because we know in a lot of these situations where students commit these acts in schools, where they harm other students, they are dealing with significant issues in their life. And many times, it’s because they’re struggling with mental health issues. So we’re thinking that that’s one of the best places we can spend our money is in student mental health.”

Wingspan: How is the district underscoring the importance of mental health?

Waldrip: “We’ve added a number of additional staff to take some of the burden off our counselors. Over the years, counselors have assumed other duties other than counseling, particularly the burden of dealing with state testing. State testing has gotten to be such a large burden for all school districts. So what we’ve done is we’ve hired some individuals and put some people in place to take on those duties so that counselors can get back to doing the thing that they do best, which is guide students academically and then counsel them with regard to their mental health needs.”

Wingspan: Next we’re going into finances. First question: can you elaborate on what the district’s trying to do through the tax bind swap election?

Waldrip: “Well, as you know, Frisco ISD–or maybe don’t know–Frisco ISD has been the largest or the fastest growing school district in the state of Texas for decades. We’ve added thousands of students every year. And to keep pace with that growth, we’ve had to build facilities to house all students that are coming to us to educate. This is just a continuation of that process. Because Frisco continues to grow. Families continue to move to Frisco. They live in the community, send their kids to school in Frisco ISD. So with regard to the bond issue, it’s just a continuation of what we’ve done for years. We’re proposing funds to build new high schools, new middle schools and elementary schools to expand the CTE Center, to expand programs to offer more opportunities for students. So it’s really a continuation of what we’ve been doing for years. And with regard to the bond; now, the TRE is a separate issue because the funds that we’re proposing to raise with this bond are to build brick and mortar facilities and improve and expand programs. We can’t use those funds to pay teacher salaries and to provide resources for teachers to use in the classroom. Most resources that teachers use, and so the TRE really runs in parallel with the bond as we expand programs and hire more teachers and do more things, we have to have the money to pay those teachers’ salaries and their benefits and provide the materials and the resources they need to teach the courses they teach and provide the education that we provide for our kids in Frisco ISD. So it’s really two different things.

Wingspan: How would this change affect homeowners who pay property taxes?

Waldrip: “This particular bond issue, and TRE, what we’re proposing is an overall tax swap and tax decrease. So basically, what it lays out for the voter is they’re voting, they will be voting for a bond if our board approves it, and they would be voting for a tax increase. But what the board will do if both measures pass is they’ll actually decrease part of the tax rate. So overall, the homeowner will see a two cent drop in their tax rate as applied to their home values. So they’ll see a decrease in their school taxes with these two measures.”

Wingspan: Do you have anything else to add about the decision to change the rank and GPA or kinda just anything separate from that?

Waldrip: “Sure. I think a lot of things that come out of my Student Advisory, that’s one of the only times I really get to meet face to face with students and, you know, talk to them about issues that really concerned them and things are important to them. One of the overriding themes I think that I got from those meetings and those interactions with those students is that there were a lot of things that were causing them stress. And we had just come to the conclusion that we need to put more resources into student mental health and try to do some things to help alleviate that stress on our students so that they can perform better in school and actually have a healthier, happier life while they’re doing that. That’s been the overriding, I think, message I’ve gotten from that group. And we’ve taken it to heart. So we’ve done a lot of things in our district to kind of move forward in that area.”

In our first meeting, I’m going to just go back to them and say, “Okay, what are big issues for you as students, and what are some areas that we maybe can delve into this year and work on?,”

— Dr. Waldrip

Wingspan: Are there any issues that you expect to work with them [the student advisory committee on this current school year?

Waldrip: “Well, I actually want them to drive it. In our first meeting, I’m going to just go back to them and say, “Okay, what are big issues for you as students, and what are some areas that we maybe can delve into this year and work on?” because the rank and GPA thing was great. I think they felt that although they didn’t get everything they wanted, which there are some things that were bound by law we couldn’t do, I think it was a positive thing for students. And so going into that that student advisory group this year, I’m just going to go to them and say, “What are your issues?” Rather than say “You guys work on this” I want them to tell us what they’d like us to work on and what you can help us with, and we can work through it together.”

Wingspan: So if the TRE and the bond measures both pass in the court and election is called, what is the district’s role in that election? What can the district do?

Waldrip: “Well, When the school district proposes a bond and a TRE measure to the board, if they approve it Monday night, then the school districts role is to provide factual information about the bonded TRE, as school district employees while while we’re working and using school resources, we can’t advocate for or against the bond or the TRE. However, what particularly district employees need to know is that on their own time and with their own resources, they can advocate for or against the bond as much as they want. They can do things on their own time with their own resources that they can’t do when they’re serving as a school employee during that time when they’re on the clock and they can’t go to the copier and make flyers that say “Vote for the bond, vote against the bond” or whatever, but on their own time, they can do those things. They can be a part of groups, they can speak out, they can use their own social media accounts, their own emails, they just can’t use school resources like school email and school equipment, and they can’t do it while they’re working.”