Washington HS celebrates the past and future in new building

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Booker T. Washington High School alumni, community leaders, special guests, and elected officials gathered Thursday to celebrate the school’s 125-year anniversary and newly built engineering magnet school.

The $56.5 million project, which is part of HISD’s 2012 Bond Program, highlights the use of 21st century technology through its specialized engineering and science labs and flexible learning spaces that support project-based instruction and encourages collaboration.

“The significance of the 125th year and the opening of a brand-new building has brought so much excitement to our campus and school community,” said Washington Principal Carlos Phillips II, who is one of only 10 principals to lead the school during its more than century-long history.

The modern campus also features an auditorium that expands into the cafeteria via a retractable wall with retractable seating, a three-court gymnasium, daycare center, drama, choir, and band rooms, and exterior courtyards where science classes can conduct experiments.

“This is a beautiful school with so much spirit in it. There’s better technology and more programs for us,” Washington senior Libni Lopez said. “Every classroom is bright, colorful, and rich with technology to support our learning.”

HISD Board of Education President Rhonda Skillern-Jones touted how the features of the new school provide students with spaces that will properly prepare them for the future.

“This new building has the state-of-the-art resources our young scholars need and deserve to realize their most ambitious dreams,” Skillern-Jones said.

Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan reflected on the school’s storied past as she spoke to the crowd.

“One-hundred twenty-five years ago, this school was opened as the Colored High. The name was a designation of separation, relegation to a space set aside for people of color because they were not permitted to learn in the same space as white students,” Lathan said.

“I want the students, faculty, staff and parents to truly understand that today is more than just the celebration of a new building and an anniversary. Today is a triumph. It is honoring your history by celebrating how far you have come.”

Many dignitaries and elected officials attended the celebration, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston City Council Member Karla Cisneros. Representatives from the offices of Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and State Rep. Jarvis Johnson presented the school with congratulatory certificates.

Rep. Jackson Lee urged students to take advantage of the opportunities the school will provide.

“Across the U.S., we are looking for engineers, scientists and statisticians, and you all can get your start right here at Booker. T. Washington High School,” Jackson-Lee said. “We are waiting to hire your graduates.”

Mayor Turner congratulated the principal, students, parents, and community leaders, and he thanked the district, trustees, and superintendent for bringing the project to fruition.

“I look forward to the future generations that will come here,” Turner said. “The future, I believe, is brighter than its past.”

Washington is among 40 schools, including 29 high schools, being rebuilt or renovated as part of HISD’s voter-approved 2012 Bond program. More than 70 percent of all school construction projects are now complete, and that number is expected to top 80 percent by the end of 2018.

Follow @Build_HISD on Twitter for the latest construction updates on the 2012 Bond Program and school construction across the district.