Clayton Claridy remembers growing up in Hamilton Park as a child and riding bikes through neighborhood streets with his friends. He was frequently at the home of his grandparents, Hamilton Park pioneers Cleophus and Sadye Gee, and he’s currently raising his young family in the historic community. After years as an educator and school administrator, Claridy will return to serve as assistant principal at Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet in the fall.
Like many Hamilton Park residents, Claridy began hearing the history of the neighborhood early in his childhood. The planned community for African Americans was built in the 1950s after Black families were displaced to enable Love Field expansions. About 750 homes were erected, along with churches, barber shops, grocery stores and parks.
“I have a lot of great memories from both the school and the neighborhood,” Claridy told me. “I am still friends today with the friends I met in kindergarten. I remember how each street would play football against another street on the football field at the school. We might play Campanella vs. Hallum or Bellafonte vs. Bunche. It was a lot of fun.”
Some of his experiences will help Claridy in his new role as HPPM disciplinarian.
“I remember riding our bikes down Willowdell hill and jumping on ramps,” said Claridy. “I remember getting paddled by Mr. Griffin, the principal at the time.”
Legendary principal James O. Griffin also served as head football coach in the days when Hamilton Park High School was all-Black, and his team won the Class A state championship in 1961.
“I remember listening to the stories of the former football players who had an undefeated season,” Claridy said. “I grew up hearing of the close friendships that were formed.”
Claridy didn’t have to venture far to learn the storied past of Hamilton Park. Before she died in 2009, Sadye Gee was considered HP’s historian-in-residence. Born in 1921, she graduated from Booker T. Washington, Dallas’ only high school for Black students at that time. She went to Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College of Texas, the precursor to Prairie View A&M, before working with the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II. After she married Cleophus Gee, they moved to HP in 1957 and became active members of HPUMC. She taught at Dallas ISD and, because married couples couldn’t work in the same district at that time, he worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dallas. She also served as community historian of the Hamilton Park Civic League, organized the HP chapter of AARP and curated an exhibit at the African American Museum entitled, “Black Presence in Dallas: 1936-1986.” Cleolette, the Gees’ daughter and Claridy’s mom, is also a teacher.
“I always knew Hamilton Park was special,” said Claridy. “Our parents and grandparents taught us to be the best we can – to work hard and attend college or enter the work force. I always wanted to be an educator, because I saw the impact my grandparents and mother had on students and student learning.”
Claridy said he loves knowing many of his childhood friends still live around the corner or visit their parents in the neighborhood. They see each other often, and he has taught many of their children.
“Living in HP and growing up here helps to build a strong connection with students,” said Claridy. “I believe it will help students and parents trust that I will do what is in the best interest of students and keep the tradition of making sure student learning is taking place. We are preparing students to become successful, independent adults.”
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Claridy is preparing for a uniquely challenging school year for his beloved HPPM and for his own family. He and wife, Rainy, have a daughter, Claudia, and a son, Trey.
“My advice to students, teachers and parents would be to practice wisdom,” said Claridy. “Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge correctly. Stay safe, be positive and help people who are hurting. Personally, I pray every day and have faith in Christ.”
Claridy said dealing with uncertainty is difficult in all professions, but leadership can calm the waters of doubt.
“I will follow the lead of my superintendent, Dr. Stone, as she is working with Dallas County and doing a great job of keep us informed and safe.”
Claridy’s only regret is that his grandparents won’t be there to witness his first day back at HPPM. He knows, though, what advice he’d receive from his grandmother.
“She would tell me to treat every student like they were my own child,” said Claridy. “That is what she did with her students.”