Teachers Focus on Students as They Rebuild After Tornado

Teachers from tornado-ravaged Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas fanned out in the neighborhood Tuesday to reassure students that classes would resume.

Dozens of teachers went door-to-door handing out snacks and fliers with information about Wednesday's start of classes at the former Thomas Edison Middle School in West Dallas.

Sophomore Analeyda Payan, a member of the Thomas Jefferson band, said she was worried about disruption from the storm.

"It's a really important week for us. We have homecoming, a homecoming game. We have band. We have varsity football. Things we've been planning out," she said.

Her stepmother Enecia Larkin said everyone was shaken up by the storm in their neighborhood and the damage it did to the high school.

"It does make you sad," Larkin said. "A lot of people are upset about it. A lot of people who are alumni are upset about it."

Jefferson was already under construction for an upgrade with bond money. Now, Dallas ISD officials are not certain whether it can be repaired. They plan to bus students to Edison instead, through at least the end of this school year.

At Edison, on Singleton Boulevard, Jefferson teachers spent much of Tuesday getting classrooms in shape. The middle school building was closed to students in Spring 2018. Since then it was only used for teacher training.

Jefferson Biology teacher Vanessa Somchith said the quick switch is difficult with all the teaching materials she had assembled now lost in the damaged school.

"Everything that we've accumulated, that was brought from home, things that were donated, it's like starting all over again," she said.

Teach for America organizer Katelyn Hall was raising money to help her friend Somchith and found herself helping many more teachers.

"I put one thing on Instagram and now I have to do Go Fund Me because the response was so tremendous," Hall said.

Fourth-year English teacher Erika James said she'd purchased almost everything she lost with her own money. As she starts to rebuild, she said she's thinking about more than supplies.

"It's just stuff. And the idea that stuff can be replaced, it's difficult but my focus is making sure that my kids are okay," James said.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa visited Edison Tuesday to see the progress teachers were making on getting the place ready to serve as a temporary high school.

"They're going to stumble for a few days until they get their rhythm and it may not be until next week before they're really comfortable. But the fact these students don't have to stay home and worry about the tornado, worry about what's going to happen to them is really the biggest blessing that we could have," Hinojosa said. "It's not going to be perfect, but we have the opportunity to pivot and get the students engaged in something meaningful in very short order."

Jefferson student Payan said she was impressed to see the teachers come to her home.

"People are busy. They have things to do. But they still take time off their day to come and see if we are OK, and that's really good," she said.

Her step mom Enecia Larkin said Payan's family has been very pleased with Thomas Jefferson High School.

"We love it. She loves it. And the teachers are doing an outstanding job," Larkin said.

Biology teacher Megan Lyons gave Payan a hug as she left Tuesday.

"All the teachers love you so much and we're going to make it work, OK," Lyons said.

The Jefferson teachers visiting students Tuesday said they do not want to let the tornado ruin the good things that have been happening at the high school and they are anxious to get back to work.

A decision as to whether six DISD will be open Wednesday won't be made until 4 a.m., the district said. Those schools are Dealey Montessori, Franklin Middle School, Hillcrest High School, Kramer Elementary School, Jose May Elementary School and Medrano Middle School.

On Monday, Hinojosa said two of those campuses — Walnut Hill Elementary School and Cary Middle School — are a total loss and will need to be rebuilt.

Students from Cary Middle School have been assigned to Franklin and Medrano middle schools, so parents and students are encouraged to look for the 4 a.m. decision.

For a detailed list of the impacted campuses, click here.

The district says you can make a monetary donation through the Dallas Education Foundation by clicking here.

Thomas Jefferson High School has specifically asked for binders, colored duct tape, whit eposter boards, spiral notebooks, small dry erase boards and markers, pencils, tape, staplers, folders, dividers, colored paper and highlighters. 

Gift cards, preferably in $25–$30 increments, are also being accepted. Mail the gift card to 9400 N. Central Expressway, Box 21. For questions about gift card donations, please call (972) 925-5440.

The district is also accepting small boxes of new school supplies, which can be dropped off at the three following locations Monday–Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.:

• Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Collegiate Academy, 1700 E. Camp Wisdom Road

• Turney W. Leonard Training Center, 5151 Samuel Blvd

• One Center at Linus Wright Administration Building, 9400 N. Central Expressway, first floor

Dallas ISD will hold another press conference with further updates at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

NBC 5's Chris Blake and Allie Spillyards contributed to this report.

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