Principals of schools damaged by Hurricane Harvey excited to return ‘home’

A new school year typically brings a mix of emotions for Kolter Elementary School Principal Julie Dickinson. Feelings of excitement mingled with the hope that everything will run smoothly.

As Dickinson readies for the start of the 2020-2021 school year, she is once again experiencing those same feelings, but this time they’re tinged with the promise of new beginnings.

“There was a huge loss to get where we are today,” Dickinson said. “But I can’t think of a more deserving community.”

In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey unleashed three feet of water in the hallways of Kolter, Braeburn, Mitchell, and Scarborough elementary schools. With the schools devastated beyond repair, hundreds of students and staff were forced to relocate to temporary, make-shift campuses while their home schools were razed and rebuilt.  

Three years later, construction is nearly complete, and all four schools are preparing to open their doors and welcome students back home for the first time since Harvey dealt its devastating blow.

“It’s been powerful, it’s been emotional, and at times, it’s been overwhelming,” Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said. “But it also brought our community together. It’s going to be exciting for them to be back home.”

The schools had been planning to move into their new spaces in the spring, but the COVID-19 pandemic put those plans on hold as furniture shipments were delayed and physical distancing limited the number of crews that could work on construction sites at one time.

Now the wait is nearly over. The two-story schools — which range in size from 90,000 to 112,000 square feet — feature open, brightly colored areas with abundant natural light, and learning spaces outside of the classroom.

“This is going to allow us to provide a learning experience that is leaps and bounds beyond what we have been able to give our students and their families in the past,” Braeburn Principal Amanda Rodgers said.

Being in temporary locations wasn’t easy. Mitchell Principal Elizabeth Castillo-Guajardo said being away made it harder to maintain connections with students and families.

“I miss running down to the taqueria and running into families, and [the school] being that physical presence in the community as a beacon of hope for what the future holds,” Castillo-Guajardo said.

Though in-person classroom learning has been delayed this fall due to the ongoing pandemic, Scarborough Principal Miriam Medina can still feel that familiar swell of excitement and anticipation that each new school year brings every time she walks the halls of the new building.

“I can just imagine the children there, dreaming of their future,” Medina said, a broad grin quickly stretching across her face. “I can’t wait to hear the good noise, the laughter, and the sharing of ideas.”