Sadness, Loss as Bonham Elementary School Prepares for Consolidation

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Greg Howard
Today is the last Friday of the school year for Dallas ISD schools. For 11 schools in the city slated for consolidation after a school board vote, like the 89-year-old James B. Bonham Elementary, this Friday holds even more significance. Next week, after the students leave, the teachers will pack all their belongings, rip down their posters, turn off their lights and lock the doors behind them. Next year, the students and faculty will have to make their way elsewhere.

Dozens of parents drove and walked their children to Bonham Elementary this morning as Natasha Bedingfield's "Pocket Full of Sunshine" blared over the PA system. The students, mostly Latinos who ranged from pre-kindergarteners to third graders, filed into the brightly colored classrooms, taking their seats or sprinting over to join their friends. Though many know they won't be attending Bonham next year, they didn't seem too fazed by it. The same couldn't be said about the parents.

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"We're trying to move on," said Sofia Hurley, a PTA member who has a son in kindergarten. "But no one is happy about it." She said her son is going to try Robert E. Lee Elementary next year. Lee, like Bonham, is a school with an "exemplary" rating from the Texas Education Agency. But she didn't sound hopeful.

"We want to give Lee a chance. But if we don't like Lee, we'll find alternatives."

Sandy Walkington, a parent and volunteer, said the decision to close the school "wasn't the right thing to do.

"It's a big loss to the community," Walkington said. "That's what makes this school. The community makes this school."

Walkington blamed the school board for the closing, citing its longtime spending habits as the reason for the decision.

"The spending just blows your mind. The students were eating on Styrofoam trays, and the board just sent new plastic trays. We have four days left before the school closes for good. Why are we getting new trays?"

When the school board voted 6-2 to close the schools in January, they cited fairness as a reason. District 9 trustee Bernadette Nutall was outspoken about her decision to consolidate, saying that it would give all Dallas students equal access to resources like full-time school nurses and high school AP courses. Schools with 251 students or below were considered for consolidation, regardless of their success.

"Everybody says, 'It's because you have a small school,'" explained Rogelio Garcia, an award-winning pre-K teacher at Bonham. "But that's why we're successful. The kids buy into the atmosphere here."

During class, Garcia read from a book as his students followed along aloud on the projector. Today, they learned the "ei" sound, and pronounced words like receipt, either and ceiling. All his students were reading at a first-grade level, and some were even reading proficiently at a second-grade level, three years ahead.

"It's like the difference between a state school and an Ivy League school," Garcia said about Bonham. "I challenge you to find another pre-K class in the country that does what we do."

Bonham is one of the top 10 urban schools of its kind in the nation. When asked if he thought kids were better off for the consolidation, he answered with a question.

"If it was your kid, do you think they'd be better off?"

The school consolidations also affect jobs, as many teachers, cooks, janitors and others will be found without a home or means of income after the school year. Fortunately for Bonham's faculty, it won't be a problem. Principal Sandra Fernandez was assigned to Adelfa Callejo Elementary, a new school opening this fall in South Dallas for pre-K through fifth graders. She's taking nearly all of her staff. Ironically, they'll be moving from Adam Medrano's district, who voted against the consolidation, and into Nutall's.

"The team here is really, really awesome," she said. It's obvious it could be much worse for the teachers, but leaving Bonham, the only place where some have ever taught, still felt like a "slap in the face."

"No one from the district ever came to speak to the teachers, to thank them for doing a good job," she said.

"I'm an economist by education," she continued, so she understood why the school was chosen to close. "But we're dealing with people and hearts. Not just numbers."

Next Thursday, students, parents and alumni will gather for the closing ceremony. They'll tell stories of the place, then release three blue and white balloons into the air, to signify Bonham's colors. Then, they'll lower the flag.

But before the ceremony, on Tuesday, the school will have one final Fun Day. Walkington said it's the day the kids will be able to run, and play tug-o-war as parents and staff and barbeue. It'll be a joyous occasion.

Walkington smiled fondly for a moment.

"There will be a lot of tears."


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18 comments
Jrod713
Jrod713

I have a feeling this will be some sort of hip restaurant or new bar sometime soon given it's location being one of the new areas the "cool kids" are moving into. Lame

Jcknight
Jcknight

And yet they're opening another new school? Why not just shift students around?

DallasMan
DallasMan

If DISD moves to sell the property for development, I hope the building is slapped with landmark status and protected.  If they move in that direction any time soon, the uproar will be hard to ignore.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

Can you find out who holds the plastic tray contract, how the RFP was drafted and how much they were paid?

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

I've said it many times, this district is a joke. I cant understand why people keep their kids in it...Also, people who vote these idiots like Nuttal back into office are only getting what they deserve...

Guest
Guest

DISD should be using Bonham as a model for other schools, not shutting it down.  Sad and not surprising.  What do you expect when half the board has their fingers in for profit pies....

Paul
Paul

Aren't you all aware that this is how DISD is going to improve the school rankings?

If we get rid of all of the academically excellent schools then the academically unacceptable schools will look better as they will then be the best schools in the district.

What I don't understand is that the academicians are always saying that we need to spend more on schools.  With Bonham spending more per student, isn't this the proof that the academicians and administrators need to get more funding?

One other thing ... what is the parental involvement like at Bonham compared to the schools that are rated academically unacceptable, yet will remain open?

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

"The spending just blows your mind. The students were eating on Styrofoam trays, and the board just sent new plastic trays. We have four days left before the school closes for good. Why are we getting new trays?"This is why Bonham had to close.  Rampant overspending allowed by the elected school board members.

Put a tracking chip on the lunch trays and see where they end up.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Bc then no one would be able to make money from building a new school.

It's not about the kids--it's about finding ways to give tax dollars to the Dallas Citizens Council and their friends.

Wondering
Wondering

It's folk NOT voting who are the issue. When 2% of your voting population shows up to vote in any non-presidential election stuff like this happens. 

When your public refuses to be active in the schools that are paid by their tax dollars. They will come out the wood work for sports and to yell when schools are low performing or getting closed. Yet are MIA when it comes to academics, keeping neighborhoods safe to where families will stay and not move from neighborhood schools.

Bonham shouldn't have been closed in fact none of the others should have either. However when folks choose the easy way out like running to charters or illegally attending other school districts-this is what you get.

So instead of crying over Bonham-start working on saving other schools from the same fate.

Guest
Guest

Most of the parents who put their kids in this district don't have other options.  They can't afford private school and did not make the lottery for charters.  At Bonham it has been wonderful because of parent and community support working with an awesome staff.  Now we can only hope that the changes made at the top will make a little difference, and that the parents step up and take an interest in their kids education.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Part of the reason Bonham is exemplary is that it serves only preK-3.It doesn't have to worry about 4th or 5th grade tests, where the math, science, and writing standards become much more difficult.Schools with 4th and 5th grades have to put 90% of the school's effort into those grade levels because of the testing requirements.Bonham can focus on giving its kids a strong, solid foundation.

Bonham's success indicates the need for MORE preK-3 schools, not fewer.The smallness encourages parental involvement and student success.

But when millions are going to administrative salaries, vendors like TFA, infinite numbers of IT vendors, there's no money left to do what's best for kids.

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

 Isn't there a MASH episode like this?

By the way, wouldn't it be the central office administrators who are to blame for waste?

Its So Sad
Its So Sad

And when was the last time DISD sold a property? Schools close and open based on demographics. People don't have babies forever, and don't move into or out of a neighborhood when their children reach a certain age.

It is unfortunate that all the schools cannot operate with small populations. Smaller seems to mean better. Guess that's why the state is increasing class sizes...

Guest
Guest

Maybe, we'll have to watch.  I think the odds are that the property will be held by the DISD and reopened as a school in a few years when the student population will support it.  On the other hand, if it ends up in the hands of a developer, I'd guess you were right.  

Paul
Paul

DISD teacher, for once, I would like to hear something from you about why something works within DISD or how to make something work instead of why things do not work.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Yes, it is the Central Admin people who waste the money.And the superintendent is supposed to be in charge of them.And the school board is supposed to employ and hold accountable the superintendent.

The "hold accountable" part is not happening.The school board members do nothing about the waste and theft.

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