Sadness, Loss as Bonham Elementary School Prepares for Consolidation

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.

"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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Greg Howard