By BRAD KEITH
THREE WAY (August 2, 2016) — Without doing some real searching, Three Way ISD is about as rural a school district as you will find.
Ten miles east of Stephenville, 20 miles west of Glen Rose and 18 miles north of Hico rests the Three Way school, presently serving 115 pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students. That’s 64 more than attended Three Way the day fourth-year superintendent Paul Ryan came on the job.
An aggressive opportunist and passionate educator, Ryan takes one mission with him to work every day – to ensure students of Three Way ISD have the same if not better educational advantages and experience as those provided by larger districts.
And he’s succeeding, one major project at a time.
There was never much thought about Three Way playing six-man football, but under Ryan, the dream is real and the Braves have already completed two seasons.
Nobody ever dreamed of a real football stadium lighting the sky behind the school, just off US Highway 67 in, quite frankly, the middle of nowhere.
But there are wooden poles jutting into the sky from behind Three Way school, four of them in fact, two on the north side and two on the south side of roughly an acre and a half of new sod that was laid just Monday. The lights are on their way, Ryan says, as he gazes toward a set of shiny silver bleachers between the polls on the north side. The irrigation is already in place, and today Jerry Snyder is cleaning off the heads of the inlaid sprinklers before starting the next round of watering at a rate of 2.5 gallons per minute, pumping out of two drums holding a combined 5,000 gallons of water.
There’s even a scoreboard, currently lying on its back behind the west end zone, and goal posts, lying north of the field, the pole of each still bearing the concrete from where they and the scoreboard once stood at North Central Texas Academy between Glen Rose and Granbury.
In short, there is a football field behind Three Way ISD, or at least the beginnings of one are in place as Ryan and others work to have it completed in time for the Three Way Junior High Braves to play a home schedule this fall. The field will also be home to the Stephenville FAITH Knights, a homeschool program that has captured five consecutive six-man football titles in the Texas Christian Athletic League and the Texas Association of Independent Athletic Organizations.
“It’s more than just a football field,” Ryan emphasizes. “It’s a statement. It shows that we are doing things here, that there are opportunities for students in Three Way. It legitimizes us in a way.”
And not just on the gridiron.
Three Way has its own one-to-one technology in learning plan, much of it being overseen by Three Way’s second ranking educator, new principal Ronda Melton.
A 10-year veteran of the classroom in Goldthwaite ISD, Melton taught English as a Second Language at the high school level and is excited about her first administration job and the future of Three Way ISD, which includes Chrome books for each student in grades 5-8, as well as Google classrooms.
“The football field is an exciting thing, but that’s his baby, he’s already rolling on that,” said Melton, referring to Ryan. “I’ve been working on curriculum where Google Classroom is concerned to help those teachers take what they already do and enhance it. We want to produce independent learners who are on their way to becoming global citizens capable of competing with the rest of the world, and we will be doing that right here in Three Way.”
Right there, just less than halfway from Stephenville to Glen Rose.
With Melton in place, Ryan, who the last three years has been both superintendent and principal, has more time to focus on further developing the district.
And with a visionary like Ryan leading the way, there is no telling where that could lead.
“I can shift to being more of a superintendent, and she can help us in everything from teacher support to curriculum to working with at-risk kids,” Ryan said. “Just that hands on, in the trenches support from her will be awesome. Her and I already make a great team. We’ve had a great summer, and with both of us on board I can’t wait to see what we do next.”
Though he already has an idea. A big one. Because when it comes to educating youth, big is the only way Ryan likes to think.
“I envision us having a high school,” Ryan said. “Or at the very least something like a STEAM Academy that focuses on career skills.”
Don’t say it can’t be done. Ryan has already acquired the land, and Three Way picked up the necessary acreage for a high school at no cost.
Dr. Paul Armes, president of Wayland Baptist University, owns land immediately east of Three Way ISD, and has donated four acres.
“We never had any space for a high school,” said Ryan confidently. “Now we have space for a high school. We’re going to build a fence out there and take this (current) fence out and who knows what it might look like down the road. It’s exciting, Mr. Armes is a super nice guy and very supportive and said he wanted to help the school out.”
So when does Ryan, who in three short years has brought a 1:1 tech plan, a football program, a new stadium and a principal to Three Way, hope to add a high school serving grades 9-12?
“I”m not a patient guy, especially when it comes to improving our school,” said Ryan. “I want to see it done in three years.”
A bold timeline, but Ryan is a bold leader of a school making bold moves.
“We’re not just a podunk school in the middle of nowhere,” Ryan said. “This is a legit school and we’re doing some amazing things.”
More on the stadium
Ryan listed off a number of individuals and businesses that have helped, either offering the lowest possible cost for their services, or volunteering altogether. Tuesday afternoon, Jerry Snyder, who Ryan labeled a friend, plumber and jack of all trades, was working on the irrigation system, setting it so it watered effectively while not quickly vanquishing the 5,000 gallons available.
“We need rain,” Ryan said, echoing the thoughts of so many in Erath County. “Even an inch would just do us wonders. I’d even settle for some cloud cover to keep it cool.”
Shawn Johnson did the dirt work for free, and Three Way kids, adults and others have been out lending a helping hand, including Stephenville FAITH athletic director Rod Cole and his family.
Tri-Tex Grass laid the grass, Memco Lawn and Agriculture Irrigation in Stephenville laid the irrigation system, Scott Line Pole brought poles that will soon bear stadium lights and Stephenville businessman Matt Harpole used connections to help ascertain the scoreboard and goal posts.
Erath County Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Brown and his staff have also “helped in a number of ways,” Ryan says, and Erath County Volunteer Fire & Rescue even donated 3,000 gallons of water to help with irrigation.
“We’ve built this stadium on next to no budget thanks to the help of so many great people and a great school board who have supported us,” he said. “And when we’re done, my hope is that it won’t just be some second-rate field, but a real home stadium we can be proud of.
“Having a home field is a whole new level of pride,” he added. “I posted on our Facebook page that I felt like a kid at Christmas. I’ve had people drive by and then call me and say they saw our grass and they were impressed.
“The kids, the community, everyone can take pride and ownership in this,” he added. “We’ll put our ‘TW’ out there in the middle of the field, and we’ll show everyone that we’re legitimate. We’re for real.”
More on Principal Melton
If anyone rivals Ryan’s excitement for the 2016-17 school year, it’s Melton, who will be a principal for the first time in her education career.
Armed with a master’s degree in education administration from Texas A&M-Central Texas and 10 years of classroom experience, Melton, a native of Austin, can’t wait to meet her students and help the Three Way ISD faculty serve them every day.
“I loved being in the classroom teaching, but people around me started to say, ‘You have that leadership thing going on. You like to help and organize adults as much as children,'” said Melton. “So I looked into it and enrolled in the program and absolutely fell in love with the leadership side and giving teachers the tools they need to help kids succeed. It’s helping kids from a different angle and also helping teachers grow and understand there are so many resources out there.”
She’s excited to be part of a new wave of excitement in Three Way.
“So many things are changing, I’m not the only new kid here,” she quipped. “We have a new coach, new ELA teacher, a new website and new Chrome Books. Teachers in (grades) five through eight are using Google Classroom every day, taking technology to the next level. We’re working to expose the kids to things outside these walls and taking all the great things about Three Way to the next level.”
Melton is currently focused on the teacher inservice schedule, curriculum with Google Classroom and, of course, the annual budget.
“We will take every last minute necessary to be prepared for our teachers and kids,” she said. “We still have a lot to do, but we’ll be ready when school starts.”
Ryan says Melton will be like a shot in the arm for the entire district.
“She will support and provide for our teachers better than I ever even could,” he said. “And it frees me up to be more of a superintendent.”