Horn, Herod and Lovett schools benefit from upgrades
For someone whose recent memory includes chasing a possum out of the old 4th-grade wing, Principal Sarah Harrington can't hide her elation with the newly rebuilt Horn Academy, 4530 Holly St.
"It's a whole new world. We don't even know how to act! I want to thank everyone who made this possible. I feel like I've won the Academy Award," said Harrington, a Houston school district "lifer" who's been a principal for 25 years, 17 at this school.
Horn is one of three elementary schools in southwest Houston to debut new buildings this year. Lovett Elementary, 8814 South Rice Ave. in Meyerland, also opens the school year in a new building, while Herod Elementary, 5627 Jason St., moved into its rebuilt school in mid-January.
Together, the three projects cost about $49 million out of HISD's ongoing bond program approved by voters in 2007, which pledged more than $1 billion for school construction and upgrades. Construction of the consolidated Lockhart and Turner elementary schools on the Turner campus, 3200 Rosedale St., is expected to be completed next year, and HISD has other improvement projects under way in all parts of the city.
Like Harrington, long-time teachers moving into their new schools at Horn and Lovett are wowed by the new space and updated equipment.
Last year, Horn's physical education teacher worked from a closet in the front hall. Lovett's reading intervention teacher taught from the custodian's office.
Now, teachers have storage in their classrooms and Smart Boards, a computer-based technology that runs instructional programs and works like an old-school chalk board at the same time.
"I've never see so many smiles in my life," said Horn PTO President Ken Cantrell. "We are lucky, lucky, lucky."
The libraries are three and four times larger. Lovett Principal Amy Simson said the soaring ceilings "brought tears to the eyes" of her school's librarian.
Music classes have their own specially-equipped rooms and are no longer on stage in the lunchroom. Active parent-teacher organizations have community rooms to work from.
Horn parents used PTO funds to upgrade fencing and the playground, where the equipment spells out Horn.
Herod Principal Andrew Johnson, whose staff got to break in their new building during part of last school year, is tracking his school's enrollment to learn whether the new facility brings back students who may have left the attendance zone for magnet programs elsewhere. The school is full with 780 students, he said.
"The open spaces, there's lots of natural lighting – that's a wonderful environment for students to have for learning. It makes a big difference and enhances the impact for the community," Johnson said.
Horn is able to add pre-kindergarten this year, and more students will be able to attend its after-school Knowledge Universe program. School Clerk Cheryl Neal is site director for the program, which is tuition-based and considered a model within HISD. Capacity is increased from 100 to 150, she said.
Lovett's band room adjoins the school's multi-purpose room (which also can open to the lunchroom), but its wall of windows in back folds open, making outdoor performances possible also.
The PTO hosted a coffee last week for the neighborhood surrounding Lovett, an act of appreciation for enduring the school's construction, which continues and will impact traffic around the school for a while yet.
Horn also faces some traffic issues until exterior construction is complete.
"That first week is going to be very interesting," said Horn PTO's Cantrell.
Even Herod still has some work to be done.
"We have to continue to add some parking, and I want the grounds to be impeccable, but it's wonderful," said Johnson.
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