When South San Antonio Independent School District trustees voted to reopen West Campus High School, roughly a decade after the campus closed due to flood damage, they were betting students would want to return.

When the campus opened as a satellite school of South San High School this fall, enrollment numbers disappointed those trustees who pushed for the reopening, with less than 50 ninth graders enrolling. West Campus students were able to take only core classes at the newly reopened site and had to ride buses to South San High School for electives and extracurriculars.

Trustee Gilbert Rodriguez, who represents the area of South San ISD that surrounds West Campus, called the dismal enrollment numbers a travesty and blamed the district’s administration for not carrying out the board’s plans to reopen the school the way trustees had intended. In a tweet, he said the first day of the 2019-20 school year “will live in infamy and serve as yet ANOTHER injustice enforced upon our West Campus High School community.”

Just a few months later, trustees are doubling down on their investment to restore West Campus as it once was, making plans to expand the campus’ offerings by next fall to make it a more attractive option for students. Administrators made a presentation to trustees Wednesday night on the progress of West Campus’ full reopening.

South San officials told the board that the current eighth grade class of Shepard Middle School will be zoned automatically to West Campus. The class of 181 students will join the current enrollment of 27 ninth graders, who will progress into their sophomore year. In addition, the district will offer open enrollment for ninth and 10th graders.

District staff offered a similar enrollment plan last year. All the graduating Shepard eighth graders were automatically zoned to West Campus. However, South San ISD is an open-enrollment district, meaning students can request to be transferred to another school. The majority of Shepard students elected to attend South San High School instead of West Campus this past fall.

“I guess my concern is we had 195 students this past eighth grade of Shepard [Middle School] and only 30 of them or so walked this way and the others went wherever they wanted to go,” Trustee Homer Flores said. “Is that [attendance] boundary going to be enforced for those kids that are going to be [in] 10th grade that are going to be zoned here, that live here?”

District staff told Flores that they believe West Campus being its own stand-alone campus will help boost enrollment. In addition, the district plans to offer a greater variety of courses at West Campus from the 2019-20 school year. Students will be able to take art, physical education, Spanish, and principles of information technology/cybersecurity in addition to their core classes.

South San also applied for a P-TECH, or Pathways in Technology, Early College High School designation at West Campus. The P-TECH program is a national, industry-specific educational model the State Legislature approved for use in Texas schools in 2017. The model allows students to earn a high school diploma, associate degree, and certifications while obtaining work-based training in specific career fields over a span of four to six years.

Should the Texas Education Agency approve the designation, West Campus will have a planning year before it officially becomes a P-TECH high school in 2021-22. The school’s program will focus on cybersecurity, which is also offered at Sam Houston High School Cyber P-TECH in San Antonio ISD.

South San administrators are working with industry and higher education partners, including Texas A&M-San Antonio and AllGen Computers, a computer company owned by a South San ISD graduate.

West Campus also will begin offering athletics, according to the district’s plan. The district is working with the University Interscholastic League to plan which teams will be eligible to compete and at what levels.

A Wednesday night budget presentation shed light on the potential cost of the complete reopening of West Campus High School and moving administrators who currently work at the West Campus complex into the district-owned Olivares Complex. Moving costs could range from $180,000 to $200,000 and the make-ready cost for needed renovations at West Campus is estimated at a little more than $950,000. Make-ready costs at Olivares is estimated to be $685,000.

Workers finish out a classroom by adding a white board to the wall at South San ISD’s West Campus High School.

Other costs associated with readying West Campus for more students and grade levels are projected to be $535,000 and include library books, IT equipment and supplies, and classroom furniture. The cost to transition all IT equipment at the Olivares Complex for administrators is projected to be $110,000.

Rodriguez, who was initially critical of South San officials’ efforts to carry out the reopening of West Campus, expressed “restrained excitement” at how plans are proceeding.

“I certainly see the difference,” Rodriguez said. “It is night and day, the efforts that we are putting forward to make West Campus a success.”

Registration for South San schools will open in February.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the Rivard Report.