Port Houston Community Defends School From Closure

More than 300 students attend Port Houston Elementary on the east side of the city.

The Houston Independent School District says that's not enough to keep the campus open. A school like that should have at least 500 students.

But community members see many reasons to save their school.

"It's the center of this community. There's a lot of bad things around here. It's the only good thing about this."

"Don't dismantle something that's working."

"The safety issues alone. From here to say Pleasantville, if that's where they're going to be assigned to, is dangerous, because they have to walk across the track. Some of that area do not have sidewalks. And when it rains, God forbid!"

That was Esmeralda Valdovinos, who graduated from Port Houston; HISD trustee Juliet Stipeche and Artie Onayemi, who was the school nurse for 25 years.

More than 90 percent of the students at Port Houston Elementary are Hispanic. The school is one of five HISD schools facing possible closure (Photo by Nimra Haroon)
More than 90 percent of the students at Port Houston Elementary are Hispanic. The school is one of five HISD schools facing possible closure (Photo by Nimra Haroon)

Like its name suggests, Port Houston Elementary is near the region's port – one of the busiest in the world.

It's not a typical neighborhood. Small homes sit near trucking companies and petro chemical businesses.

Again, Onayemi the former school nurse.

"We may not have a big enrollment but it serves a multitude of purposes here. They don't have banks. They don't have grocery stores."

She says the elementary school fills in that void.

Many say it's the hub for the largely Hispanic community. On campus, there's an afterschool program. Even parents can study English as a second language there.

What's more, supporters of Port Houston Elementary say students there are actually learning. Last year, the school earned distinguished marks from the state in reading and math.

HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche says she is against closing Port Houston Elementary, calling it a 'beacon' for the local community (Photo by Nimra Haroon)
HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche says she is against closing Port Houston Elementary, calling it a 'beacon' for the local community (Photo by Nimra Haroon)

Kathrin Meier is with the nonprofit Neighbors in Action.

"Considering the neighborhood, which is a very poor neighborhood, this is especially, it's incredible how the school performs considering the low budget that the teachers work on."

But for HISD's budget, it doesn't make sense to keep a school open if there's low enrollment.

That's why along with Port Houston Elementary four other schools could be closed this year.

The school board is expected to make its final decision March 13.

This story was written with help from intern Nimra Haroon.

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