Neighborhood schools can work – and anyone who doubts that should check with Hamilton Park Elementary principal Sue Francis.
“This is what the real world is like,” Francis says of the school, which for two decades has take students from different races and socio-economic backgrounds and given them one of the best educations in Richardson Independent School District. “It’s a very enriching experience.”
Hamilton Park is a magnet school, but that is only the beginning of its attractions:
- All students learn Spanish and how to work on computers in a full computer lab.
- A Gifted and Talented program is part of the curriculum and is provided to every child in the school, not just a selected few.
- There are no admittance requirements, just a waiting list, which Francis says some parents put their children on when they are born.
- The school also offers an extended day program. Students can arrive at 7 a.m. and be supervised until school starts. And after-school enrichment courses – piano lessons, computers classes and karate – are available.
Because of the magnet school status, Francis says the school attracts more speakers and takes the students on more field trips. Another attraction is that there is a low student-teacher ratio, usually about 20 students to a class, Francis says.
But the special programs and facilities were not always the case, especially when the school was part of the segregated RISD.
Doris King, a Hamilton Park resident who raised two daughters in the neighborhood, says if parents wanted something for the school, they had to get it.
She and another mother sold fruit on the side of the road to raise money for a window fan for the school because it had no fans or air conditioners.
“When they built Hamilton Park School, they did not build a lunch room, they did not put in an auditorium,” King says. “The students had to use the gym for everything.”
The school was also supported by the Hamilton Park Dad’s Club, which raised money for books and band equipment.
When the school first opened in the neighborhood, it served as the elementary, junior high and high school for Hamilton Park residents. When RISD integrated in the early 1970s, Hamilton Park was the only school in RISD with black students. Francis says the school board wanted to bus children from Hamilton Park to other parts of the district and bus Anglo children to Hamilton Park.
But at the last minute, Francis says trustees decided to make Hamilton Park a magnet school, making the worst school in the district the best. The children from the immediate neighborhood would automatically attend, and 300 Anglo children from other neighborhoods would choose to attend for the education experience.
Francis says it took a lot of reorganization, but Hamilton Park became an example of how integration works.
“We were building something from the ground up,” Francis says. “We knew this was right.”