Dallas ISD ‘Moved Mountains’ to Return Students to School

Reporters gathered for an update on affected Dallas ISD schools less than 24 hours after an EF-3 tornado went on a rampage through North Dallas, and heard superintendent Michael Hinojosa confidently declare the improbable: Thousands of displaced students would be back in class the next day.

But this story starts at 9 p.m. Oct. 20, a Sunday during a Dallas Cowboys game when Apple devices alerted with a tornado warning.

A scant minute later, tornado sirens sounded. By 9:50 p.m., the system that spawned nine tornadoes was out of North Texas.

By 10 p.m., Hinojosa said, the district got to work. Maintenance and facilities executive director David Bates headed out to assess damage to each of the Dallas ISD buildings in the path of the twister.

All told, 21 campuses and one support building were affected.

“To basically be able to move what is essentially an entire school district on one or two days is just fantastic.” -Dan Micciche

Hinojosa said phone calls continued among senior staff, and by Monday at 8:37 a.m., they began hashing out a plan. Five hours later, they had one.

That plan had an incredible array of moving parts.

Tom Field Elementary, shuttered a year before, would become the new home for Walnut Hill Elementary, one of the three schools that received the most severe damage.

Thomas Jefferson High would relocate to the former Thomas Edison Middle School.

Cary Middle School students would be divided between two neighboring schools – Franklin Middle School and Medrano Middle School.

Burnet, Cigarroa, Pershing elementary schools, still without power and with damages that needed repair before students could return, went to Loos Fieldhouse where all three simultaneously held classes. By Thursday, every student had a place to learn.

“By Wednesday, we only had seven locations where we couldn’t have school,” chief of school leadership Stephanie Elizalde said.

But in that first 24 hours, the numbers tell the tale of a massive feat. Bus routes – 38 of them – were created out of whole cloth. Instructional materials were moved into buildings and desks delivered as teachers put them together to be ready for classes. Three thousand lunches were re-routed to new sites in one day.

“They were going to move mountains to make this happen,” Hinojosa said of district employees.

Trustee Dustin Marshall, whose district (along with Edwin Flores) was the most impacted by the storm, called it “one of the proudest moments I’ve experienced as a trustee.”

“You guys just moved mountains in 24 hours, 48 hours in some cases, to recover from a tragedy,” he said.

‘I’ve never seen anything turn around that fast,” said trustee Joyce Foreman. “it wasn’t just one part of the city that hurt, when we saw those children, it was the whole city.”

Trustee Dan Micciche said he fielded calls from members of the Texas Association of School Boards offering support.

“One said, ‘Well, you know 3,000 kids, that is bigger than 75 percent of the school districts in the entire state,” he said. “To basically be able to move what is essentially an entire school district on one or two days is just fantastic.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected]

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