Photo: Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle
Ten of the Houston area’s largest school districts reopened Monday after a two-week delay caused by Hurricane Harvey, returning a sense of routine to a community still reeling from massive flooding.
More than 600,000 children went back to classes for the fall, easing the burden on parents and others who had scrambled to find caregivers. The day marked the largest return of students since Harvey dumped as much as 51 inches of rain on parts of the Houston region, destroying the homes of thousands of children and damaging dozens of campuses.
Houston ISD, the state’s largest district, kicked off its school year by opening 243 of its 284 campuses. As of last week, administrators had expected only 202 campuses to resume operations Monday.
Another 29 schools are expected to start classes Tuesday, with the remaining 12 projected to open by Sept. 25. The student bodies of seven of these schools will take classes at alternative locations as their home schools undergo repairs.
“This is going to be a year of not only incredible academic achievement, it’s going to be a year of healing,” HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza said.
By the numbers
Area students who began their school year or headed to class Monday.
7HISD schools that will remain closed for the time being because of storm damage.
270HISD teachers affected by flooding who were unable to return.
Cy-Fair ISD, the area’s second-largest district, opened all but one of its 85 campuses. Eight other districts, all of which serve 20,000-plus students, were back in action Monday: Katy, Pasadena, Alief, Clear Creek, Spring, Spring Branch, Lamar Consolidated and Goose Creek.
In Humble ISD, administrators pulled off the merger of Kingwood and Summer Creek high schools, which will share a building this year after extensive flooding at Kingwood.
Fort Bend ISD opens its doors for the fall semester on Tuesday.
Administrators, parents and students grinned through the first day back, embracing the return of classes while tackling complications brought on by a natural disaster.
Carranza said about 270 teachers were affected by flooding, leaving some unable to return Monday. In many cases, staffers from schools that hadn’t opened yet filled in for co-workers. Carranza said he expects all of those 270 staffers will be able to return by Sept. 25.
Determined to show up
As HISD opened its doors, principals and teachers didn’t know how many of their students would return or how they were affected by the floods.
At Bruce Elementary, northeast of downtown Houston, Principal Raquel Sosa-Gonzalez said the neighborhood surrounding the school seemed abandoned leading up to Monday. She had found some of her students at the George R. Brown Convention Center shelter when she went to check shortly after Harvey’s rains stopped, but was unsure how many of the school’s 550 students would be able to make it to school Monday. She expected about 430 to show up and was floored when her attendance count showed 515 students had arrived Monday.
She said many of the students at her school are refugees from African nations – displaced from their homes when they came to Houston, and then displaced again by floods that washed over their fresh starts.
“Just to see the sheer resilience is truly remarkable,” Sosa-Gonzalez said. “Just to see the smiles on their faces and to see them come in the door.”
To the south, at Codwell Elementary, 8-year-old Chardrea Hayes couldn’t stop smiling as she scampered to class. During the two-week delay, Chardrea insisted that her mother, Charlotte, drive by Codwell every night so she could see the HISD campus.
“I’m feeling really excited,” she said. “When they said school would start Monday, I really wanted to go.”
New campuses, for now
At Cy-Fair ISD, young people returned to largely unaffected buildings. Only one campus, Moore Elementary, was temporarily closed for repairs. Those students are attending classes at a vacant Cy-Fair ISD campus about two miles away.
Katy ISD, home to about 75,000 students, had two schools temporarily shuttered due to damage.
Students from Creech Elementary, near the heavily flooded Cinco Ranch neighborhood, traveled a mile up the road to a University of Houston satellite campus building. District officials said the formerly vacant facility will be Creech’s home “for the foreseeable future.” Katy ISD officials said they will be adding portable buildings and playground equipment, making minor modifications as needed.
“We have been working on a tremendously short timeline over the past week, and the university has been extremely flexible in helping us to meet the needs of our students and families,” Katy ISD Superintendent Lance Hindt said.
To the northeast in Katy, issues with the building’s water system sent Bear Creek Elementary students to the district’s newest secondary school, Paetow High, about 12 miles away.
Making a positive start
Though Humble ISD resumed classes last week, students at Summer Creek and Kingwood high schools were scheduled for their first day Monday. The two student bodies will be sharing Summer Creek’s building, alternating morning and afternoon shifts, after Kingwood’s campus sustained damage that could keep it closed all year.
Trey Kraemer, Humble ISD’s assistant superintendent of high schools, said traffic issues caused commutes of 30 to 50 minutes for some Kingwood students. But once the kids arrived, the student bodies mixed seamlessly, he said. Kingwood students were greeted by welcome signs peppered along the route to school, and Summer Creek students received thank-you notes from the new denizens.
“When I greeted (Kingwood) kids coming off the bus, they were very happy that they’ve been able to remain together,” Kraemer said. “I think that cohesiveness of being here with their classmates, being here with their teachers, that’s really important to them.”
Students found teachers and administrators eager to welcome them back at every school. They included Codwell Elementary staffer Demitra Cain, who waited outside the campus Monday with outstretched arms.
“I’ve given out over 200 hugs this morning,” she said. “You don’t know what they’ve all been through. I want to give them something positive when they get here so they have a great start to their day.”