Supe embarks on marathon tour to welcome students, staff back after Harvey

On Sept. 11, the first day of school after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston on Aug. 26 and delayed the start of school in HISD, Superintendent Richard Carranza visited six schools to welcome back students and staff members. 

7:22 a.m.: Allison Acres Mobile Home Community

On a cool clear Monday morning, Superintendent Richard Carranza greeted two elementary students in south Houston at their bus stop, admiring their electronic sneakers and new backpacks and taking selfies with them for his Twitter page. He was impressed when he asked one of them for advice to pass on to his followers, and she said, “Don’t talk back to your teacher.” Carranza then boarded the bus with the students and rode with them to school, showing off the drawings they did for him when he arrived at Codwell Elementary.

7:45 a.m.: Codwell Elementary School

Carranza donned a hair net and served breakfast to second-graders as they entered Ms. Henry’s bright green and yellow classroom at Codwell Elementary School, a newly renovated school (see story here) that suffered minor storm damage but was ready for opening day. “This is so important—we serve free breakfast in all of our schools—because our students can’t learn if they are hungry,” Carranza said, as he handed out juice and breakfast sandwiches. Principal Kristy Love was excited to be in her new school, saying, “We spent three years at a temporary campus, and it’s just so great to be here!”

9 a.m.: Milby High School

Milby Principal Roy de la Garza greeted Carranza at the front door to his new school (see story here) and took him first to the kitchen and culinary areas, where students learn about baking, catering, ethnic cuisine, etc. De la Garza announced that they had just hired a Central American chef, Carlos Ramos, to run their program. Next on the tour was Milby’s in-house day-care center for both students and community members, with its own outside entrance, followed by classrooms where students can become state-certified as hairstylists, barbers, and cosmetologists. As Carranza admired the numerous cutting stations and shampoo bowls, he shared that his mother had been a hairdresser. “Students will learn about more than cutting hair—they will learn the science and chemistry involved, and when they walk across the stage at graduation, they will be qualified to work in their field.”

10:15 a.m.: Press conference with Mayor Turner at Bruce Elementary School

Carranza, HISD trustees, and Mayor Sylvester Turner were joined by State Sen. Sylvia Garcia for a press conference on the challenges HISD and the City of Houston are facing due to Hurricane Harvey. Board President Wanda Adams opened the conference. “Today has finally come,” she said, “and I want to thank everyone who has been working so hard to get our schools open for students this morning, including these board members.” Carranza singled out Bruce Principal Raquel Sosa-Gonzalez for going to the George R. Brown Convention Center shelter and finding many of her students there. “Teachers came there as well, and there was teaching going on in the shelter.” Carranza then announced that 268 out of 287 HISD schools were open for business. “This is going to be a year of healing, and we will do whatever it takes to make our students feel safe,” he said. “This includes wraparound services, three free meals a day for students, and support for our homeless students.”

Mayor Turner talked about the partnership between HISD and the city, and hinted at a major initiative that will be revealed soon by Director of Education Juliet Stipeche. “Our schools and our city are one,” he said. “You can’t have one without the other. Houston is a can-do city.” Finally, Trustee Adams gave a shout-out to HISD Nutrition Services Officer Betti Wiggins for facilitating free meals to thousands of students after the hurricane.

12:15 p.m.: The Rice School

VIDEO: Rice school students show off drone

Carranza’s visit to the Rice School, a K-8 magnet for STEM, began with an impressive drone presentation by students. The drone rose dramatically and then turned around to face the crowd, hovering while everyone gathered so it could take a photograph. After that, Principal Kimberly Hobbs took Carranza on a tour of various grade-level “pods,” where classrooms fan out from a central area. Students were involved in first-day activities, with one class creating an acrostic for “Houston Strong.”

1:15 p.m.: Westbury High School

The drive along Braes Bayou to Westbury High School was a reminder of how many homes were flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Westbury sustained minor damage, but thanks to its amazing staff, and in particular, plant operator Werner Flores, the school was up and running on Monday. Principal Susan Monaghan first took Carranza to what will be a new two-story entrance to Westbury when it is completed in the fourth quarter of 2018. (See this story for complete details.) They toured several classrooms, where most teachers were wearing “I (heart) Westbury” T-shirts. When Board President Adams visited first-year science teacher Jacob Sigren’s room, she realized that his mother had been her English teacher.

2:30 p.m.: Safe Walk at Marshall Middle Academy of Fine Arts

Northside volunteers were set up outside Marshall Middle with water and snacks for students, as Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, District Attorney Kim Ogg, and other dignitaries joined them in support. Marshall Principal Benjamin Hernandez led everyone on a tour of the fine arts wing, which included visits to an art class, a music class, and band practice. When students were released at 3:15 p.m., volunteers greeted them and urged them to walk in groups and watch out for each another. The Safe Walk group was formed by residents last year after Marshall student Josué Flores was murdered while walking home from school.

4 p.m.: Delmar Fieldhouse

Delmar Fieldhouse has been serving as a donation center since Sept. 1, and since then, donations have been coming in from all over the country. Carranza finished up his first-day tour at Delmar, where he thanked volunteers for sorting supplies into boxes and looked over the touching notes and drawings that accompanied the shipments. “We are looking forward to getting these donations where they need to go in the coming weeks,” he said. “The generosity of these people is just amazing. I am so touched.”

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