When walking into Jennifer Heemer’s fifth grade classroom at
Kolter Elementary School, it’s hard not to get excited about learning.
The walls are adorned with colorful decorations, including a
poster reminding her students to “think outside the box” and class photos from
her 21 years of teaching. Natural light from a wall of large windows fills the
room and illuminates the two rows of perfectly-arranged desks.
A group of Windswept Gardens Apartments residents made their way
through the complex’s tree-lined central courtyard, which sits just a few
hundred yards from the speeding cars and unending traffic of the Southwest
Clad in face masks and carefully keeping their distance from each
other, the families gathered around a blue tent where HISD’s Nutrition Services
staff were handing out student summer meals in the afternoon sun.
The district has long offered a free summer meal program for
students throughout the greater Houston community. In previous years, children
would come to local schools to eat. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed the game,
prompting Nutrition Services to look for innovative and safe ways to feed kids
without a cafeteria.
For more than 80 years, the red-bricked Austin High School
has been a mainstay in the Eastwood community. With construction nearing
completion, the new school now strikes a balance of the past and present.
The $80.9 million project features modern classrooms,
flexible learning spaces, and sound and lighting upgrades to the existing
auditorium. The Art Deco-influenced façade also has been preserved and
refurbished as a part of the project.
“This school has been here for more than 80 years. It was
important to keep a part of this building that has been present in this
community for so long,” Austin Principal Steve Guerrero said. “The entire
building is just phenomenal. It feels very grand with lots of natural light.
Every single part of the building is exciting.”
The new Austin High School is now scheduled to open in
January 2021 — a delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school was originally scheduled to open in August 2020.
HISD Construction Services Officer Derrick Sanders said the new timeline was
due to a three-month delay in the school’s furniture shipment and manpower
shortages caused by mandated social distancing requirements resulting from the
Austin will remain at its current temporary learning center
located across South Lockwood Drive until the new facility opens.
As the school year wraps up, the Houston Independent School District is revving up its nutrition outreach efforts with the launch of curbside summer meals for students and the Fresh Bus produce delivery program.
The programs come on the heels of the district’s successful community food distribution initiative, which ran for nine weeks following HISD’s closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coordinated by HISD in partnership with the Houston Food Bank, the program, provided nearly 7 million pounds of food to more than 160,000 families during that time.
“When everything around us was shutting down due to the pandemic, it became essential for us to be there for our students and their families,” HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said. “I’m proud of the hard work and dedication that went into this effort. Remarkably, we were able to impact so many families.”
The district is aiming to build upon that success with the launch if it’s annual and state-mandated summer meals program, which begins June 1. Families will be able to pick up packaged student meals twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays at one of 71 designated schools across the district. Families will receive several days’ worth of food per child.
HISD Meal Programs At a Glance
HISD Curbside Summer Meals
Begins June 1
Pick up on Mondays and Thursdays at 71 schools
Meals are free to ages 1-18
Proof of enrollment or birth certificate required for children not in the vehicle
Business Operations Customer Care Team Leader Johnetta
Branch has a new three-step routine when she arrives at her office — put on her
face mask, sanitize her hands, and have her temperature checked.
The district may be closed, she said, but there are still
employee and parent questions to be answered, payrolls to be processed,
maintenance requests to be filed, purchases to track, and fire and burglar
alarms to monitor.
“Fifty-six of us used to come in every day, but many are
parents and with schools and daycares closed, they aren’t able to come in,”
Branch said. “So now it’s five people working at one time to accomplish the
same tasks. I’m here to do whatever needs to be done.”
Construction at Lamar High School is continuing, as
allowable under the public health guidelines, with renovations to the original
building now 80 percent complete.
The renovation work, designed to preserve the building’s historically
significant architecture, included the construction of a new child care wing,
welcome center, and updated ROTC and Career and Technical Education classrooms.
The athletic fields — including football, baseball,
softball, soccer practice fields — and tennis courts also are underway.
Construction at the new Scarborough Elementary School is
steadily progressing, despite the district being closed due to the COVID-19
Work on the campus has continued, as allowable under the public
health guidelines, with a reduction of the workforce to adhere to social
The $23 million project is tracking at 94 percent
completion, with site work, paving, underground utilities, structural steel, roofing,
interior wall systems, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing installation
complete. Exterior wall systems and interior finishes are ongoing.