At J. Will Jones Elementary, workers are busy retrofitting, and the staff is getting ready to leave for good.
"It's sad to walk through the building and see all the rooms empty, the library stripped clean," Brian Flores, the former principal, tells Hair Balls.
After a drawn-out resistance from angry locals and parents the 101-year-old school officially closed its doors, due to low enrollment, with the end of the school year. (It will be reopened next year for high school classes.) Flores and others have been scrambling to take care of mundane things like inventory and record-keeping before they're due out of the building on July 7.
Flores has won widespread admiration for taking a school that in 2004 was slapped with the Texas Education Agency's lowest rating and turning it into a model for how to succeed with disadvantaged kids. About half of the school's 300 children were homeless this year, yet it is projected to become a "recognized" school for the second straight year. It also won the Texas Governor's Educator Excellence Award from 2003 to 2005, among other honors.
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The school's improvement numbers over the last five years: 55 percent to 90 percent in reading; 45 percent to 89 percent in math; 55 percent to 92 percent in writing; 14 percent to 81 percent in science.
Flores and his staff underwent extensive -- and voluntary -- training, and teachers generally knew what was going on with their kids at home, even helping families access social services at times. According to a J. Will Jones obituary published in the latest Midtown Paper, Flores even rode the school bus as it made the rounds of the homeless shelters.
"We had to really form a human connection to them," Flores says. "It's a trust issue and a self-esteem issue."
The former students will be shuttled to schools throughout the district, and Flores and the teachers are looking for work. Most teachers and administrators are guaranteed placement within the district, though they may not have much say in where they're headed. And Flores isn't guaranteed to keep his principal's post.