New school facilities already paying dividends
Former school mate Russell Fisher joked with me at Sunday's open house at the brand new intermediate campus: "Just think how smart we'd be if we had gone to school in buildings like this."
His tongue was planted firmly in cheek, as buildings are just a part of the overall education experience. But I immediately thought, "Just think how much better off our town is now that we have new school buildings."
The new intermediate campus and new part of the high school are nothing short of amazing. Nice improvements were also made at the elementary campus and the junior high.
Architectural details around the cafeteria, the smart planning — from color-coded halls to having the music room open right to the cafeteria for performances — and just the "wow" factor at the new library, kitchen, high school foyer and other facilities are simply stunning. They are as nice as you would see in any school district, from Class 5A on down.
To say that it raises the pride level among students, parents and staff is an understatement.
It was 30 years ago this fall that we eighth-graders walked into the new Rockdale Junior High building. We marveled at the cool lockers, the polished tile floors, the glassed-in library and the hallways that led to the classrooms. It was new. It was nice. It was a boost for us.
(Later that year, I went nuts from a combination of teen hormones and having no windows to day dream out of. School offi- cials can't control the teen stuff, but it's nice that architects built windows into the classrooms to counter the cave feeling.)
On Sunday, you could sense that same feeling of awe as people walked around the new campus. Given the beating that this town has been handed over the past year from job loss, it was a shot of pride to the psyche of the town, whether you are a school child's parent or not.
And it seems the new schools are already paying dividends. Enrollment numbers are up overall from what they were anticipated to be. This first increase in enrollment in years is good news, especially considering roughly 1,000 jobs were lost in this area.
Another thing that can't be overlooked in parents' decisions to send their child to a school are the scores and rankings from the Texas Education Agency. We may not all like these tests as they can homogenize instruction, but that is the system we have until something better comes along.
We already had an editorial commending the district for its raised scores—two "recognized" campuses and one "acceptable." But we must give credit to the administration, teachers and board for the scores. Sometimes we tease Penny Curry, assistant superintendent for instruction, about "education-speak." But she definitely deserves credit for helping bring these scores up, so kudos to her.
I fully believe that this new investment in our schools is the best thing that has happened to Rockdale in some time. Yes, we were glad to get a new power plant, and Luminant's investment is a good thing for everyone with more dollars from those jobs floating around our community.
But these new schools will be the single biggest draw to town until our jobs base gets going again with new businesses or a re-start of old businesses (and no, I haven't heard anything you haven't about a restart at Alcoa's Rockdale Operations).
These new school facilities are a draw for those who commute to nearby cities to work. With a lower cost of living than the cities and excellent educational opportunities for the children of young parents, this town competes for residents on a more even level now, with or without a larger industrial jobs base.
I'll admit being suspect when a politician claims that pet projects are being done "for the children." But these new school facilities are for the children, though they will help benefit the entire town.
This town needs this. And we all need to do whatever we can to keep our TEA scores high and continue investing in our educational facilities. It makes a difference — for all of us.