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Exemplary Elementary School at the Heart of Eastside Houston Faces Closure

by: Genevieve Cato

Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 10:00 AM CST

Houston has no zoning in place. Perhaps that is partly to blame for the changing neighborhood demographics in the community surrounding Port Houston Elementary, one of five Houston Independent School District schools up for the chopping block at the Board's meeting on March 13th. In this neighborhood where port industries are quite literally your next door neighbors and, enrollment at this elementary school is low - too low, according to HISD officials.

Otherwise it might be hard to explain why the district proposed to close the campus, which received "distinguished marks" in both math and reading last year. Despite a tight budget and a general lack of resources at Port Houston Elementary, teachers are engaging not only students but entire families in the community. Adult learners come to the school to learn English as a second language. The school is the heart of the community, and those who came out to the community meeting last week made that abundantly clear.

More on the closure of Port Houston Elementary as a part of the proposal to close five HISD schools below the jump.

All five of the schools set to close are on the east side of Houston and serve predominately low-income and minority neighborhoods. Kristin Jones, a Houston resident, pointed to this in explaining her opposition to the proposal:

We all know that this doesn't happen in neighborhoods where there is money and voting power, and it should not be allowed to happen to the poor in our city. It is exploitative. Instead of punishing these low-income schools, we should be looking for ways to empower and give them more support. What the staff and parents of Port Houston Elementary do on such a low budget is nothing short of a miracle.

For Katherine Meier, from the nonprofit Neighbors in Action, this disparity is key to why Port Houston Elementary is such an important school for the community and the city.  "Considering the neighborhood, which is a very poor neighborhood, this is especially, it's incredible how the school performs considering the low budget that the teachers work on," Meier explained to KUHF.

Though the proposed closures were based on an extensive study of changing neighborhood demographics and enrollment to allow HISD to allocate funds and services efficiently, community members worry about the impact of losing this school. Esmerelda Valdovinos, a graduate of the school who was at the community meeting, said, "It's the center of this community. There's a lot of bad things around here. It's the only good thing about this." Valdovinos' sentiment echoed throughout the meeting, and closely resembled the arguments of those who came out to previous community meetings to discuss the proposed closures.

Especially in the case of Port Houston Elementary, a closure based on low enrollment for a high performing school in a low-income neighborhood is hard to face. School board trustee Juliet Stipeche pointed to both the importance of the school to the neighborhood and to the incredible work of the faculty and staff when she said, "Don't dismantle something that's working."

The fate of Port Houston Elementary and four other schools serving Houston's east side will be decided on March 13th at the next board meeting, where the trustees will consider the feedback from the community received over the last month since the proposal was announced.  

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