Madison Short Umberger admits she didn’t pay much attention to the faculty lounge while she was a student at Lake Highlands High School. Before she graduated in 2009 and headed off to Liberty University on a soccer scholarship, she couldn’t even tell you where the faculty lounge was located on campus.
Last spring, she received calls from Robin Moss Norcross (LHHS 1974), president of the LHHS Education Foundation, and Kari Adams Urban (LHHS 1983), chair of the LHHS Alumni Association. The women had a plan to reward hardworking teachers by sprucing up their space, and they wanted her help as a respected interior designer.
“I immediately said yes, but I didn’t really know what I was taking on,” admitted Umberger. “[Principal Kerri Jones’ assistant] Sherry Hicks gave us a walk through, and I saw how bad it really looked and how much work the project was going to be. That’s when I said I am absolutely taking this on.”
“The new parts of the school were beautiful,” continued Umberger. “Lots of money and time had been put into building the new HUB and making other renovations, but the lounge was, frankly, embarrassing.”
Umberger grew up as one of six kids in the Lake Highlands household of Mike and Jennifer Short. Mike is a local homebuilder who took his young children to visit job sites and shared stories of his projects around the dinner table, but Umberger opted to pursue a degree in elementary education and teach first grade at Richardson ISD’s Thurgood Marshall Elementary. She retired from teaching to start a family of her own, but something about Mike’s homebuilding tales must have taken hold. She returned to the family business, where she now creates interiors, including plumbing, lighting and other pivotal details. Brother Tucker, a 2008 grad, is a builder at Short Construction.
“The faculty lounge should be a place where teachers can get away and have their break from the kids,” Umberger told me. “I envisioned a French bistro — something calm and relaxing where they could escape from the chaos of the classroom and spend a few moments with friends.”
With five siblings and four children of her own, Umberger knows a little something about chaos.
Monday was In-Service Day at LHHS, and teachers who wandered into the lounge for a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie were amazed by the transformation. The bold wallpaper, velvet couches and new cabinets were enhanced by a daisy-shaped rug and fluffy floral pillows. Checked curtains hung over newly-cleaned windows, and rattan end tables added a Bohemian touch. In the lounge at the H building, formerly called the freshman center, blue glass lamps and bold art pieces were accented by bistro chairs.
“I like to bring everything together,” Umberger said, explaining the blues and greens she used to create a calming aesthetic. “I start with a design board, and I pull patterns and colors. I like to mix things in.”
“These additions will make teachers feel appreciated, feel special,” said RISD Superintendent Tabitha Branum, who inspected the lounge with school board members Chris Poteet and Rachel McGowan. “Teachers can spend time relaxing and recharging in this space. These renovations will have a big impact.”
“I’m so excited to see teachers coming in here with big smiles on their faces,” said Umberger. “My kids helped me pick the paint colors and the finishes, and I love knowing they will be up here as students one day and these will be their teachers.”
The LHHS Education Foundation serves as an umbrella organization for the Wild for Cats academic booster club and the Alumni Association, which completed the faculty lounge project with the help of generous donors, including Baker Drywall (Carol and Steve Baker), C&C Exteriors (Rhonda and Joe Clifford), Tri-Tex Cabinets (Melissa and Trey Chapman), Mai Plumbing (Carol and Karl Mai), Kay Wyne, Carol and Jeff Barrows, LH Flowers (Renarldo Parker), RISD, Up in the Air Balloons (Megan Smith), Morgan and Kevin Roberts, Uptown Fabrics, LHHS Class of 1970 and Short Construction Group. They’re in close communication with Principal Jones and have other projects in the pipeline, so if you’d like to donate to future projects, you may contribute online here.