THRALL, Texas (KXAN) — About 45 miles northeast of downtown Austin sits the City of Thrall in Willaimson County.

Thrall Independent School District is home to a little more than 800 students from the surrounding communities of Thrall, Beaukiss, Shiloh, Noack, Hare, Structure and Sandoval.

Keeping the grass green

This year, Superintendent Tommy Hooker is working to battle the ongoing drought.

“We’ve recently experienced a major shortage of water not only in the city but also in this part of the state,” Hooker said.

Hooker said the district operates on two wells. However, recently, they have seen the water supply drop.

“Due to the drought, we have experienced for the first time in several years very limited water supply. We’ve cut back, and the wells themselves naturally are not pumping the same amount of water. We think we’re at about 30%, maybe 40% of what we typically have. Therefore, we’ve had to cut way back, and then also at the same time shift over to city water, which is putting our city under a strain.”

One of the ways Hooker said the district is working to tackle the issue is by moving to artificial turf on its softball and baseball fields. The district can afford to do it because, in May of this year, voters approved a nearly $65 million bond.

Thrall ISD 2022 bond
Thrall ISD 2022 bond

However, funds to make field improvements to the football field under Proposition B did not pass, meaning the football field will stay natural grass.

“The problem we have with it is currently on our football field, we are black land out in our area, and so black land turns into basically a hard pan similar to concrete, and it cracks and it’s very hard,” he said. “If we don’t keep an adequate amount of water on it, it could lead to possible concussions for players, and it’s a safety concern moving forward.”

The superintendent said they’ll make sure the football field remains watered throughout the season. It’s important to him and the district that they keep their students safe as about 90% of the district’s high school students are involved in extra-curricular activities; that includes sports like football, track, volleyball and band.

Many of these students have spent part of their summer practicing and training outside in the hot summer days. Hooker said they’ve made adjustments for that as well to ensure safety.

“We’re running our practices earlier in the day, so it’s not quite as hot, but we do a lot of frequent water breaks, and everyone’s staying hydrated,” he said. “Although water is a shortage, we’re going to make sure we have plenty to hydrate with.”

Small rural district continues to grow

That’s not the only challenge the district is facing this year. Hooker said they are looking forward to the growth they expect over the years to come as the area surrounding Thrall continues to grow. However, with that growth comes a lot of planning.

“It’s exciting that we do have new growth, and we’re a traditional rural community, so what we are saying is that so much of our farming is shifting to industry, and I do think that our community is, for the most part, embracing that,” Hooker explained. “On the flip side, it’s just the part that we don’t get a lot of assistance with, and that is the part with facilities, so that’s a challenge for our district. Moving forward, we have to plan based on current numbers and current data, but on the same token, we can’t sit back and wait for it to happen.”

Hooker said they are expecting a little more than 800 students this fall. They expect that number to double within the next decade to “anywhere between 1,500 and 1,600 students.”

“Growth has been something that we’ve experienced the past few years, and our demographic study shows it in thrall, we will more than likely double in size in the next several years,” he said, “so we have that as a challenge that we’re we’re definitely taking on.”

Funds from the May 2022 Bond will go to constructing a new and larger elementary school that will be ready for students in the fall of 2023. Hooker said the old elementary campus will be “refurbished” and become the new middle school.

“We will still be a single elementary school district, but it will be a very large elementary, and then we will double the capacity of our high school.”

Hooker also discussed its current staffing. He said thankfully they are fully staffed and believes a big part of that reason has to do with class sizes.

“At the elementary, we try to keep our classes 16 to 18 students and as a district, we would like for all of our classes to be at 20 or below. We do have some classes that are over that but it is our intention and our effort that we try to make to keep class sizes to where the teacher can have a meaningful relationship with the students.”

Security upgrades ahead of the 2022-2023 school year

When it comes to security, Hooker said they have made some changes to improve safety.

“We’re more cognizant as to the folks who will be coming onto the campus, whether it’s people providing services or visitors or people who will just be normally coming through, we are going to be more strict on that. We’re going to make sure that ID badges are worn, so that even to the folks who are in our subsystem, as far as the district goes, they’re identified, so students know who they are, and so that parents are aware if they come to the campus. We’re also restricting some of the visitations to the campus,” Hooker said. “We’re limiting more of the lunches and things like that, coming into the campus, just so that we can keep the parameters a little bit more secure.”

He said they are also working on adding security cameras in “strategic areas” and are working with a safety coordinator they added last year.

“This person is a brain for making sure that the administrators, the teachers and the students, along with our local, city, police and our county deputies all work together,” he said. “They’re the brain to pull all these activities together, but they are not a school resource officer. We do not have any SROs for our district, but we do have this person who does help us with creating a safe culture.”

Hooker said they are busy at work.

“They’re doing more scheduled drills and activities. We have always been cognizant that there are doors that could be left unlocked, so we’re going to be paying closer attention to those”

Today on KXAN News at 4 p.m., hear more from Hooker on the growth and security measures they’re taking to ensure student and staff safety.