Waco Independent School District’s new superintendent, A. Marcus Nelson, set the tone for his first school board meeting by hiring a new principal and diving deep into the results of a major demographic study about the district released Thursday.

Nelson, who was hired this spring from Laredo ISD, started in the role this week. His first official day was last week, but he has been tying up loose ends as Laredo’s superintendent and traveling back and forth until now, Waco ISD spokesperson Bruce Gietzen said.

Nelson gave the school board a recommendation to hire Jacob Donnell as Crestview Elementary’s new principal during Thursday night’s special meeting. The board approved the recommendation unanimously.

Return to Waco

Donnell has been in education for 12 years. He has worked at Waco’s Tennyson Middle School and will move to Crestview from his position as associate principal at Taylor High School in Taylor ISD.

“This gentleman has a master’s degree from Baylor University and an undergraduate degree from Mary Hardin-Baylor,” Nelson said. “I had an opportunity to visit with him at length, and I’m very excited about his expectations for transformation and curriculum reform. I look forward to having him back to our family.”

Trustees then jumped straight into the demographic study, discussing the highlights presented by Brent Alexander from School District Strategies, the company hired in October to conduct the study.

The district is expected to use the study to assess housing activity and development, capacity and facility needs, 10-year enrollment projections, growth trends, school feeder pattern recommendations and updates to district maps.

The study found:

  • Waco ISD enrollment has declined six out of the past 10 years, but the district has seen a .4 percent annual increase on average for the past three years.
  • The poverty rate remains high in the district, with 85.3 percent of students classified as economically disadvantaged.
  • An average of 2,109 students living in the district attended another district or charter school as a transfer between the 2012-2013 and 2016-2017 school years. The top schools students transferred to included Midway ISD, Bosqueville ISD, Robinson ISD, Harmony Science Academy and Rapoport Academy.
  • The district gets a new student for about every three new homes built and about every four apartment units built.
  • Under a moderate growth-rate scenario, the district is projected to have an average .3 percent annual growth during the next five years, or a net growth of 235 students.

Trustees asked whether the study was able to adjust for properties bought by Baylor University, since those purchases aren’t likely to result in new Waco ISD students. Alexander said that detail is hard to pinpoint because it’s difficult to predict where and when the university might buy a property.

“Does your company do any comparative analysis with cities our size?” Nelson asked during the presentation. “I’m interested in the inner-city core of other metropolitan areas and if they’re having the same type of charter challenges.”

Alexander said they are aware of a district in Dallas County and one in Tarrant County also experiencing significant competition with charter schools, and those districts have 1,000 to 2,000 more students than Waco ISD.

“It is something that’s becoming more of an issue,” Alexander said. “As these schools open and give students choices, more choose that path. If you look at the marketing of some of those schools, they’re promising 100 percent college enrollment. And it’s not socio-economic. It’s all kinds.”

Nelson’s next major public step will be a welcome reception hosted by Waco’s NAACP chapter and National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa Inc. from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the city of Waco’s Multi-purpose Facility, 1020 Elm Ave. The reception is open to the public, and audience members will be allowed to ask the new superintendent questions.

He will meet with trustees again at 6 p.m. Thursday for a regular board meeting.

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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