This is the first day of school and is also a day of rebirth for some teachers in Dallas. KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports on how a winning team of educators have taken their talents to a brand-new campus.
Even a routine loudspeaker announcement can be music to the ears of teachers who thought they might never hear one again. Last year, under severe financial stress, the DISD shut a dozen schools, including the exemplary-rated Bonham Elementary. The K-through-3 school that first opened nearly 90 years ago, was just too expensive. Principal Sandra Fernandez recalls the last, sad day.
Fernandez: We loved Bonham, we loved the community, we loved the parents. Bonham was a tight-knit community and we’ll definitely miss the kids and parents.
Then, to her surprise, the district asked Fernandez to lead the brand-new Adelfa Callejo Elementary school in Pleasant Grove.
Fernandez: It’s a beautiful building, you walk in, it’s stunning. Just where we’re standing here today, it’s the multi-purpose room, where we have meetings with our teachers. It sort of serves as the auditorium as well. And so we didn’t’ have that at Bonham for sure.
Everything’s new, from furniture to interactive technology in every class. But perhaps the most important part of this new school is the old faculty. Fernandez rehired the same 30 or so people from her Blue Ribbon Bonham school, and all but two followed. Bonham 3rd grade teacher Rogelio Garcia, a national award winner, says he could have gone to one of several districts, for more money. But he’s a baseball fanatic, and stuck with the team.
Garcia: It was just my team that convinced me, because I had been working with them for years. It’s just a matter of work ethic. I love their work ethic. I love being around these people. That was a deciding factor. As opposed to going to a new school, I would rather be with the people I enjoy, spending most of my time with them. I’m happy with my team.
There are some new additions to the team. 5-year music teacher transfer Christine Ruggles says she’s honored to join this faculty of high achievers. And she loves her classroom designed for children to create, and move and learn music.
Ruggles: My mom flew in from Chicago last week. to help me start to get everything together, and she came in, she had seen pictures of my other classrooms. She came in and just started crying. They were happy tears, so this is “wow.”
Ruggles says she feels like she did in 8th grade, when she moved halfway across the country to a new school, to new friends, leaving the old ones behind. She didn’t know what to expect.
Ruggles: The kids that are coming here are going to feel that way. And we feel that way too.
Principal Fernandez says it won’t take long for the new students and parents to know what’s expected at Callejo. She and Garcia says it’s the same formula that worked at Bonham.
Fernandez: It’s almost our test to see how great we are and to have that type of impact on this community now.
Garcia: We should be the best in Pleasant Grove. After a couple years, we should be the best in Dallas. And a year after that we should be the best in Texas.
When Bonham’s closure was announced last Spring, the school’s parents, teachers, students and long-time volunteers were traumatized.
They had helped turn a low performing elementary school into one of the district’s shining jewels. Now, instead of retiring or moving, alone, to a different school or district, they get shine again, with all new students.
Experts say good teachers with high expectations help lead to high- achieving students.