Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet school will celebrate its 25th anniversary next month, and nobody could be more proud than brand new Principal Vaughn Gross.
Although she may be a recent addition to the Hamilton Park team, Gross has already added a healthy dose of her enthusiastic spirit to this school, which she clearly cares about.
“There is a real energy when you walk through these halls,” she says. “Our children are so warm and outgoing, and they’ll come right up and talk to anybody.”
Gross came to Hamilton Park last year, after having taught in RISD for 25 years. Most recently, she spent eight years serving as an assistant principal at Brentfield Elementary.
“Hamilton Park was the first magnet school in the Richardson Independent School District,” she says, “so they were always on the cutting edge in terms of new programs, equipment, and technology.
“I feel I really connect with this school because I have seen the whole picture – as a teacher elsewhere in the district and as an administrator.”
Hamilton Park was designated as a Magnet School in a 1975 court order. The population of the school is split evenly between neighborhood children and applicants from throughout the district. The school is so highly regarded that there is a waiting list to get in each year.
“In the last five years, RISD has created two additional magnet schools,” Gross says. “Because there are other options now that might be more geographically attractive, we need to be sure we are providing something that continues to attract students to Hamilton Park.”
To this end, the school narrowed its focus to its gifted and talented and arts programs.
“I require my staff to have 30 extra hours of gifted certification each year,” Gross says. “The teachers here are so outstanding. On their own time, they have created a proposal that takes district criteria for gifted and talented qualification and merges that with the unique student situation here.”
“They have developed a new set of criteria under which some of our students at Hamilton Park could still qualify for some gifted and talented instruction.”
The school also places a strong emphasis on the arts.
“We are the only elementary school in the district with a full-time drama teacher,” Gross says. The school boasts two music teachers and two art teachers.
“Our productions are great, because we have a full-size auditorium and the resources to make all the aspects of a production – acting, singing, designing props – really come alive for the children.”
In the short time Gross has been at Hamilton Park, there have been many changes to the feel and look of the school, which convey the overwhelming enthusiasm she brings.
“I arranged for all the hallways and bulletin boards to be painted in bright colors,” she says, “and I encouraged the teachers to paint their rooms in a way that expresses their individuality.”
As a result, every hallway and classroom is unique and colorful.
“These teachers are so devoted,” says Gross. “They came in during the summer without pay, without air conditioning, to paint their rooms. And, they even paid for their own paint.”
But feeling good is just as important as looking good, which is why Hamilton Park has many ongoing “community building” exercises. Gross feels these exercises are crucial to creating a bond between two distinct populations of children.
“Every Friday we have something we call the Huddle,” Gross says. “It is sort of like a pep rally that the whole school attends. We use the time to recognize special students, have alumni come talk to the kids about their successes after Hamilton Park, or just listen to different songs that the children have practiced.”
On a recent walk through the school, the kindergarten classes were practicing a special song composed for Grandparent’s Day. Each classroom also sets aside time for “community circle” when students address interpersonal problems and give one another positive affirmations.
The program for the 25th Anniversary Celebration Nov. 12 will include an array of distinguished alumni; a performance by Hamilton Park’s unique hand bell choir, including past members of the now defunct teacher’s hand bell choir; and a school-wide open house. Other special activities also are planned for the days leading up to the anniversary.
“Twenty five days before the anniversary, we will kick off the celebration by asking all the students to come to school wearing 25 of something – maybe ribbons, buttons, or stickers,” Gross says.
“Each day will feature a special activity related to the anniversary. They will draw pictures of how they think they will look in 25 years. Each grade will research a five-year period of these last 25 years for our ‘History Walk’ display, and we will tie a red ribbon around one of the trees out front each day leading up to the event.”
The theme for the anniversary is “Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet – 25 years of Pacesetting and History Making.”