The renovation at Robert E. Lee High School has cleared the final hurdle before construction will begin in earnest.

The Tyler ISD board of trustees approved a guaranteed maximum price for the construction costs of the renovation project at the high school from WRL General Contractors.

Director of Facilities Tim Loper said the guaranteed maximum price is for construction related costs and does not include the total costs, such as architectural fees.

Phase I of the project includes early civil engineering and demolition at a cost of $2,138,708. Phase II includes early building and utilities at a cost of $3,078,225.

These phases include ground leveling and the redirection of a creek on campus.

Phase III will include building and further demolition once the old facility is no longer needed, at a cost of $89,367,614.

The total cost of the project will be $94,584,548.

Loper said over the next few months crews will be working on preparations and utilities for the foundation for the new three-story academic wing, which will serve as the new front of the school. He expects that to be done and construction to begin by September.

WRL also offered a tentative timeline for some of the other big portions of the project, which will be done in stages, with areas students currently use being demolished last. 

Construction on campus will be underway through the 2018-19 school year, with many portions of the remodel beginning in fall. The performing arts center, competition gym and field house will be some of the only pieces of the current campus kept and prep work for remodeling those portions is set to begin in November and December.

Loper noted that even with new steel tariffs and subsequent price increases, the district was able to stay within budget for materials.

A guaranteed maximum price for the renovation of John Tyler High School will be delivered in May.

Loper and the construction managers reiterated that although construction at John Tyler will include more renovation work than Lee, thanks to the much better foundation of the campus, the school will be totally transformed. 

Site work also has progressed on that project, with a new retaining wall for the new campus courtyard installed. As soon as school lets out for the summer, crews will begin foundation work for its new, multi-story academic wing.

Also during the meeting, the board reviewed benchmark testing results from earlier this spring, which showed most grades and subjects holding steady in the percent of students approaching grade level, but most showing gains in percent of students that either met grade level or mastered the content.

Benchmark tests help teachers identify areas where students might be struggling and where to adjust curriculum to fill those gaps.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Christy Hanson said "approaching grade level" is the mark students must meet to pass the STAAR tests.

“We typically get a lot of gain between the benchmark and when they take the STAAR test,” Hanson said.

Sixteen of the district's 26 campuses improved the percent of students in "approaches grade level," 18 campuses improved in "meeting grade level" and 13 improved in "mastering the content."

Dr. James Cureton said the improvements indicate they are seeing growth across the district.

Hanson said the areas that need improvement are the grades in which students were identified as having skill gaps in years past when the district had 11 campuses on the state’s “Improvement Required” list. Those areas were fourth and fifth grade reading and English I and II.

“We have a lot of years of really not great reading instruction and we have kids hitting those grades where they need to read to learn,” Hanson said. “We’re working on that as fast as we can. Pre-K through third grade (curriculum) has been rewritten. Fourth and fifth is being rewritten now.”

Hanson said the district must ensure every teacher is a reading teacher in order to reverse those years of losses.

“The area where we have struggled is our students who have come in with skill gaps,” Hanson said. “Our strategies (previously) had taught to students who already had those skills.”

The board also discussed solutions such as integrating academically rigorous summer school for students who are struggling in younger grades.

Special Recognitions

Elementary Student of the Month -- Yadira Araiza, a fifth grade student at Dixie Elementary School

Secondary Student of the Month – Ryan Williams, a ninth grade student at Robert E. Lee High School

Teacher of the Month -- Abby McCowin, a Dyslexia teacher, at Ramey

Elementary School

Carter Winegeart, a senior, at Robert E. Lee High School was recognized for finishing the recent State Meet with an 880 lb. total. He had personal bests in 2 of the 3 individual lifts.

Carter placedfirst or second in the four Invitational Meets this season. Carter is also the recipient of the Texas High School Powerlifting Association $1,000 Scholarship

awarded to one Senior in each Region for outstanding effort as a lifter and also as a student athlete in the classroom.

Homer Holt, an eleventh grader and Daniel English, a twelfth grader at Robert E. Lee High School,  were recognized for earning All State Band Honors from the Texas Music Educators Association.

Lauren Mullins a twelfth grader at Robert E. Lee High School was recognized for being a National Silver Medal Winner in the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition.

In recognition of April being National Volunteer Appreciation Month, the district thanked its 2,352 registered volunteers for supporting the education of the district’s students both inside the classroom and out. Volunteers logged 19,133 hours have served countless more hours through extra-curricular activities, special events and more.

The three campus volunteers who logged the most hours of service this school year were:

James Hobbs at Jones/Boshears with 354 hours

Elicia Eckert at Jack Elementary School and Three Lakes Middle School with 305 hours

Christi Crane at Woods Elementary School with 290 hours

Tyler ISD also honored their volunteer groups, including:

Tyler Council PTA, the largest parent led volunteer organization in Tyler ISD.

Marvin United Methodist Church and Dayspring United Methodist Church for providing over 1,000 hours of support for campus events, one-on-one mentoring, car line greeters, reading buddies, staff luncheons, supply and clothing drives and more.

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Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on The Murder Tapes, Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.