The Alcuin School Offers an Olive Branch to a North Dallas Neighborhood: One Million Dollars

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If you live near Churchill Way, your property values are about to go up.

The Alcuin School has pledged $1,000,000 to fund neighborhood security patrols in the neighborhood — $100,000 per year over the next ten years if the ‘hood agrees to a small zoning change.

Why are they doing this? To be nice neighbors. Alcuin (used to be St. Alcuin but they dropped the “Saint” a few years ago) wants to expand its International Baccalaureate program and upper school. To do so, they have filed a zoning application with the City of Dallas. As anyone who has had a child in a private Dallas school knows, competition to get in is fierce and once your child is in, you want to keep them there. Alcuin, like other private Dallas schools, evolved from an elementary program. They now have a high school program known as an International Baccalaureate. It is currently only open to 35 students. The school wants to open it up to 100 more students in grades 10 through 12, for a total upper school body size of 180.

The neighbors are having a fit over this and opposing the re-zoning. Why? They are concerned about the increased traffic this might bring to Churchill Way, which most would like to see maintained as a country-ish road.

Have we heard this story before? NOT IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD!

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To make it work, the school today made this incredible million dollar offer in order to get the neighborhood’s green light for student body expansion. It is important to note that this is not adding any extra students to the school, because when Alcuin bought Akiba Academy next door and incorporated the school in 2005, there were a total of almost 900 students on the two campuses. That purchase netted Alcuin a 13 acre pastoral campus. When Alcuin absorbed Akiba, they agreed to keep the school at 700 students.  What they want now is to simply re-allocate those numbers — fewer lower school kiddos, 100 more upperclassmen.

“It’s traffic, traffic traffic,” says the city councilman for the area, Lee Kleinman, on the chief complaint. “I think their mission at Alcuin is a good mission and one we should support, but we have to consider the neighborhood.”

It’s a neighborhood that has been fighting to stay country for years. Or, as Kleinman suggested, have their shackles up from previous zoning cases. (Check out this friendly no-trespassing sign on Talmage.)

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The area was originally built as single family homes for people who wanted “country living in the city”. Because at one time, many moons ago, this was the country — Dallas effectively ended at Northwest Highway. There is a lot going on on this street. Churchill Way now has on the north side, near Preston, a synagogue, an assisted-living center, the International School of Dallas, and a church near the Hillcrest end on Willow. On the south side, there is Cooper Aerobics center and Alcuin. The rest is residential, the typical sprawling ranches built in the ’50s and ’60,s but also a buzz of new construction on some of the off-roads.

The residents are worried about increased traffic with student drivers and more teenagers on Churchill zooming near their homes. The school says having teenagers drivng to school will actually create less traffic, because they come and stay, maybe even hauling a sibling with them.

All three of the local neighborhood associations — Hillcrest Forest, Preston Citadel and the Downs — are pushing against the rezoning. Hillcrest Forest alone encompasses more than 1,400 homes.

The case is scheduled to be heard March 5 by the Dallas Plan Commission, unless it can be settled first.

The rezoning issue began about two years ago, but Alcuin filed its formal request with the city last October. As the 114 property owners in the neighborhood received rezoning request notifications, they jumped to attention, concerned about — again, traffic — but also, maybe, property values.

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Alcuin has long tried to be a good neighbor by addressing traffic concerns. As a Montessori based curriculum, the signage is abundantly clear on where to pull in for pick up/drop off. (I wish they could take over the signage at DFW.) Three carpool lanes are marked by bright orange cones. Security officers help guide cars through the lanes. The school staggers its arrival and dismissal times. Upper school students arrive at 9 a.m., a full 45 minutes later than other grades, but stay later than the other students. There are recent studies proving that starting the day a bit later can be healthier for teenagers. The school even has a full-time neighborhood liason, Jana Hagood.

Still, some neighbors are not pleased, like Bruce Wilke, president of the Hillcrest Forest Neighborhood Association:

“It just spreads the pain from 30 minutes of painful traffic down Churchill Way to an hour,” Wilke said. “The traffic is beyond what Churchill Way can handle.”

Cognizant of the concerns, Alcuin has said that, if the rezoning case passes, student drivers will have to enter and exit the School from the most western entrance/exit on Preston Road. So they won’t ever set foot, or rather, tire, in front of a residential home.

Because of past zoning differences, Kleinman is not convinced traffic is the whole issue, but admitted he does not live on the street.

“People have told me, ‘I’ve lived on Turner way for 37 years and we get more traffic every day,'” he told me. “Lots of people moved here because it was quieter and less dense, but they don’t acknowledge what density brings them. They are not here for that.”

I mentioned speed bumps, as we have on Northaven, and Kleinman told me that they may not be easy to come by. Seems the City of Dallas has Churchill on a thoroughfare plan. Churchill is the first street south of LBJ that is an east-west connector. So whether the neighborhood loves it or not, people are using this street to go from east to west. Kleinman also told me they could look at widening Churchill Way at the ends, creating four lanes that flow down to two to buffer the traffic at each end.But neighbors have squawked that may be just bookends for widening the street.

World-class city? To me, this case is the absolute root of what makes Dallas a great city, and the core of every battle this city is experiencing over growth. NO ONE WANTS ANYTHING IN THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD!

We know that the Dallas public schools are iffy, great in some areas, and my outlook for the future is bright. Maybe. But Dallas clearly needs more private schools. The International Baccalaureate is a huge draw for intellectuals who might be moving to Dallas, like, for example, university professors at the University of Texas, physicians, scientists and physicists at UT Southwestern. Ask any executive recruiter and they will tell you the first question asked: what about the schools? Alcuin’s Head of School Walter Sorensen told me the Dean of Admissions at SMU is a huge advocate for the IB. Students in an IB program have a 2 out of 3 chance of getting into the service academies (Annapolis, West Point etc.) whereas the chances are 1 in 8 of getting in from any other general program. Students who come out of IB programs are also twice as likely to get into Stanford or an Ivy League school as others. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that letting this school have more high school students will be very, very good for this city.

Alcuin 2But whine — the traffic.

“Dallas needs to think of a school like our’s as a magnet for the entire community,” said Sorenson. “What would Dallas be like without its plethora of independent schools?”

I shudder to think. I guess our family would be living in Plano right now, or Highland Park.

“It is mind boggling to me that something as great as we are offering, they are in opposition to,” says Sorenson.

Noodle this fact: Alcuin is a high level Montessori alternative learning environment for students. Tuition runs about $20,000 a year. And the creators of Google learned in a Montessori-based environment. The teachers have an additional whole year of training beyond their bachelor degree. Could this school be bringing in people and more value to the neighborhood? Absolutely — look what St. Marks has down down in Preston Hollow. Some parents love notjhing more than having their child walk to school.

The security patrol will also add value.

And I don’t know what these neighbors are thinking about the Alcuin students, but my guess is they are not the kind of kids who peel wheels on the pavement. First of all, I am happy to report that kids these days are not as interested in driving when they reach age 16. (I think it should be 18, personally.) Parents of teens tell me their kids are not chomping at the bit to get licenses. Most are so busy with activities they cannot meet the new drivers ed requirements all that easily. Secondly, there will be big fat parking stickers rules. And if you have ever been involved with a private school, you know that when rules are broken, there is hell to pay. Like you get kicked out. Like how the one time my daughter peeled out of the parking lot at Hockaday, I heard about it in 15 minutes and she was grounded. (She misbehaved in the parking lot, not the street.)

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“These are goal-oriented students,” said Sorenson. ‘They have their eyes on college and beyond.”

Exactly. Under the current strict PD, Alcuin cannot so much as move a wall without neighborhood approval. And they are not asking to build anything, except, perhaps, the intelligentsia of the city.

Oh that one million olive branch? The school gives over a million a year in financial aid. But Sorenson says this is the school’s way of showing what good neighbors they want to be:

“We are willing to give back, if we get this zoning passed,” he said.

Lee Kleinman is hoping the neighborhood puts on their thinking caps — as he sent a letter out today describing the offer.

“There has been a lot of heated discussion, but I think this offer is worthy of consideration,” he said. “Don’t kick this gift horse in the mouth.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Comment

  • Seems to me they would welcome something like this. As you said look at the area surrounding St. Mark’s and the increased value that’s been seen there. I would think they would jump at the chance for increased property value without a remodel.

  • Candy, this is no small zoning change. Churchill Way is a carriage way not an avenue or boulevard. There are areas in front of the school where the pavement is 6 inches from the sidewalk. There is no margin for error. The City of Dallas needs to take ownership of the traffic congestion on a carriage way. An additonal 50-75 student cars and an unknown number of additional teacher cars coming and going each day is signigicant on a street that is already congested especially with the LBJ construction overflow traffic.

    There are two synagogues, two private schools, a Bible Church, Coopers Aerobic Center and a health care facility using Churchill Way for access to their facilities. You say the neighborhood says “not in my neighborhood” I dare say we have been most accepting but everyone has a breaking point.

    • mm

      I understand, and appreciate your comment. We lived on Park Lane for 10+ years, it’s a thoroughfare alternate to Northwest Highway, incredibly busy in the am and pm a lot like Churchill. I figured it was a trade for being close in. May I ask if you bought with the churches etc all there? Like it or not, people are moving to Dallas and traffic will increase everywhere. The school’s point is that these drivers will drive to school and stay, not go back and forth as a parent would. I go to Cooper 4+ x per week and have never used Churchill. And I would consider a move to your neighborhood because of the proximity of all those amenities. I wish there was a way to have growth in this area and NOT add traffic, but we are not there yet. Really appreciate you offering your view.

  • While I think the neighborhoods are being a bit silly in fighting this, your propaganda piece for the school itself it equally laughable. Trying to argue that 180 potential upper-body seats is going to have any impact at all on people moving here is absurd. I guess Toyota woulda reconsidered their plans if (don’t call it Saint) Alcuin had these extra seats available? And at over $20k (fees, books, supplies) a year this isn’t exactly a viable option for lots of people. It’s a lovely school with very smart/motivated kids and generally involved parents, but the fact they’re willing (and able) to drop a $1M bribe to increase their offering should also indicate exactly how large their profit margins are as a successful business.

    • mm

      I am so glad you mentioned this. It is no secret that I am a fierce supporter of private schools. No, Toyota would not re-consider their plans. They chose Plano because it offers a better PUBLIC school district than Dallas. Transplants to Dallas are steered up north if they want public schools, fact. Hence that’s where the growth is. But I know of a Japanese physician recruited by the med school who moved here, choosing Dallas over other cities, because of the private schools. Here are 180 more opportunities. As for the one million dollars OVER TEN YEARS, school officials told me that was coming out of the scholarship funds. Which is actually kind of sad.