Monday, February 2, 2015

School Binds Valley Oaks Elementary Community

Some say it takes a village, but at Valley Oaks Elementary it’s all about community.

The new Valley Oaks Elementary opened with students on Jan. 6 of this year, after spending some 18 months at the East Transition Facility (the former Edgewood Elementary). Valley Oaks is the 12th elementary school rebuilt as part of the 2007 bond program.

At the Thursday, Jan. 22, grand opening, with some 150 dignitaries, district officials and members of the Valley Oaks community on hand, talk was about that Valley Oaks community.
For instance, Hedwig Village Mayor Shannon Whiting, herself a Valley Oaks parent, said that she could see Hedwig’s City Hall from where she was standing as she spoke, from the stage of the new cafeteria.

“(The new VOE) is a feather in the cap for our community,” Whiting said.

Whiting was followed by Spring Valley Mayor Tom Ramsey, who said that Valley Oaks Elementary was part of Spring Valley, although it’s technically in the city of Houston.

“Valley Oaks has to be the most important thing in Spring Valley Village, even though it’s not in Spring Valley Village,” said Ramsey, adding a little later that he’s looking forward to his own grandchildren going through the school.

The $597.1 million 2007 bond program originally called for 12 schools to be rebuilt over 10 years, but the program was accelerated early on – and a 13th school scheduled to be rebuilt – to take advantage of savings from highly favorable construction costs and interest rates during the nation’s economic downturn in 2009-10.

Rummel Creek Elementary is scheduled to open in January 2016. Ground is expected to be broken in May for reconstruction of the Spring Branch Education Center (SBEC) – the former Spring Branch High School – on Westview, the 2007 bond program’s last major project.

Superintendent Duncan Klussmann recognized the bond program’s progress during his opening remarks.

“We’re celebrating the 12th school of the original 12 promised (in the bond program), ahead of schedule and under budget,” said Klussmann.

Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees President Chris Viera said that she knew the rebuilt Valley Oaks would be “amazing” from the time she first saw the design. “I especially love the beautiful cafeteria,” she said, “letting the outside in with walls of windows; the bright blues & greens everywhere you look; and the inspirational murals seen around the campus.”

Principal Gary Henry – only the school’s eighth principal in its nearly 60-year history – called several specific students to stand on stage with him, later to reveal that all those students were at least second-generation Valley Oaks Eagles. Henry noted that SBISD Project Manager Kris Drosche, who worked on the Valley Oaks reconstruction, is himself an alumnus of Valley Oaks.

Henry said that the original parcel at 8390 Westview was purchased 60 years ago from “Mr. A.L. Hillendahl and Mr. Holdreith for a staggering $77,000”( Mr. Hillendahl was a “tough negotiator,” he said). Total cost for the original school, which opened on Sept 10, 1956 with 822 students, was $367,350.

The new Valley Oaks, with its 117,872 square feet and 800 student capacity, cost nearly $24 million to build. The new school was built largely on the former building’s footprint but turned to face Pech Road rather than Westview, which allows for better traffic flow in the mornings and afternoons. And the new building has a two-story classroom block, which allows more of the site to remain green.

District A Council Member Brenda Stardig, a Spring Branch native and graduate of Spring Branch schools, echoed the community theme: “I love the Spring Branch community,” she said. “This is what Spring Branch is all about – community.”

State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, whose District 138 includes Valley Oaks, presented a Texas flag that has flown over the Capitol in Austin. He thanked taxpayers, Klussmann, the board of trustees – “leaders with the right core values,” he said – and the parents and teachers at Valley Oaks.

State Rep. Jim Murphy, represented by District Director Deanna Harrington, presented Henry a resolution commemorating the day.

Former PTA President Karin Donovan, who served on the new campus’ design team, praised principal Henry for “valuing everyone’s voice.” She too stressed the value of the school.

“(Valley Oaks) is the very heart and soul of the community,” she said. “(It’s a) great place for Eagles to soar and learn.

The Valley Oaks 5th Grade Choir performed their version of “My Favorite Things,” replacing items favored by Julie Andrews with “things” from Valley Oaks Elementary, then rounded out the program with the Valley Oaks school song.

Current PTA President Ann Novero said that she and her children – Valley Oaks students – watched the new building’s progress over the last 18 months, from demolition of the former building to site prep, pouring of concrete, the raising of the steel frame, installation of windows, brick by brick, “right before our eyes.”

“It’s been a joy watching this building being built,” she said. “Truly – there’s no place like home.”

Valley Oaks Elementary
8390 Westview
Houston, Texas 77055

Principal: Gary Henry
Architect: PBK Architects
Builder: Durotech Construction
Capacity: About 800 students
Building Size: 117,872 square feet
New Campus Opening: Jan. 6, 2015
Original Campus Opening: Sept. 10, 1956


Chris Viera, President, SBISD Board of Trustees

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, thank you for joining us for this long anticipated grand opening of Valley Oaks Elementary.  I want to thank
- the Valley Oaks community,
- teachers and staff,
- PTA and building committee
- all our amazing students,
- and of course the Spring Branch ISD community for their continued support of and commitment to the 2007 Bond Program.
Ever since I saw the designs for this school, I knew it would be an amazing campus. 
How amazing for the students, teachers and staff to learn and work in this beautiful, new, state of the art facility. 
I especially love
  • The beautiful cafeteria letting the outside in with walls of windows,
  • the bright blues & greens everywhere you look,
  •  and the inspirational murals seen around the campus.
Gary Henry, Principal, Valley Oaks Elementary

We have been looking forward to this day for a long time. 

Good afternoon. My name is Gary Henry and I proudly serve as the principal at Valley Oaks Elementary School. 

I would first like to take this opportunity to thank our school board, taxpayers and community members for approving the bond which made the new Valley Oaks a reality.  Along with that I would like to thank our superintendent of schools, Dr. Duncan Klussmann, for his outstanding leadership throughout the building of our new school.  Although he is retiring at the end of this school year, his legacy lies within the walls of Valley Oaks along with the other thirteen new school facilities which are within the scope of the 2007 Bond Program.  Please join me in thanking Dr. Klussmann and our school board for their support of our campus.

Sixty years ago, Spring Branch ISD purchased this land from A.L. Hillendahl and Mr. Holdreith for a staggering $77,000.  I understand Mr. Hillendahl was a tough negotiator throughout the purchasing process.  The total construction of the building, including architect fees and equipment, was $367,650.  Valley Oaks opened its doors with 24 classrooms on September 10, 1956 with an enrollment of 822 students.  Serving those students were 24 teachers each with their own classroom.  That is roughly 34 students per teacher.  The first principal was Mr. L.R. Tatum, who served for 14 years.  Believe it or not, I am only the eighth principal who has served Valley Oaks over the past 59 years. 

You see there is great history at Valley Oaks.  The history remains with the people and the community.  I always tell people the beauty of Valley Oaks lies within the community.  The people and the history makes Valley Oaks special.  As you notice, I have some students with me this afternoon.  To my right, your left, are Carlos, Ryleigh, Andrew, and Allison.  These wonderful students not only attend Valley Oaks themselves, but their parents also attended Valley Oaks.

I spoke to each of their parents about their memories of Valley Oaks.  Carlos’, Ryleigh’s, and Allison’s mothers all have great memories of the Western Jamboree.  In fact, Carlos’ mom told me the Western Jamboree was her favorite event and looked forward to it every year.  She also remembers many of her teachers and administrators.  Both Andrew and Carlos’ parents had Ms. Coffman as their teacher.  Mr. Byrd and Ms. Hardway were their principals.  Allison’s mom said that Valley Oaks was the best school she could have ever think of going to and wanted the same for her children.  Ryleigh’s mom recalls square dancing during P.E. classes and the Wheel of Fortune at the Western Jamboree.  Her favorite teacher was Ms. Petrick.  She told me that Valley Oaks has a long history of always putting students first, we have a close-knit community and, of course, a wonderful PTA. 

Throughout its long history, even today, Valley Oaks has placed a high priority on character and values.  We all know the importance of good character and the power of building positive relationships.  These four students, Cade, Caroline, Dominic, and Andrea have been chosen by their peers as finalists for the Valley Oaks Character without Question Award.  These four students represent what we hold dear to Valley Oaks Elementary, positive character.  We are lucky to have so many wonderful students at Valley Oaks.

This morning I spoke to each student and asked them what makes Valley Oaks so special.  Of course they mentioned the teachers.  Dominic told me at his old school it was difficult to really get to know other students since they all lived in different parts of town.  However, at Valley Oaks with our close knit community, there are more opportunities to be social outside of school with other students.  Cade told me that Valley Oaks is not like the school portrayed in “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid” where kids are running all over the place.  He said kids get along which makes it easy to do the right things.  Caroline said that she thinks all schools in Houston are nice, however Valley Oaks is the best.  Andrea and Caroline both agreed that the students, teachers, and assistants are all very nice and understanding. 
I think our former Valley Oaks alumni will agree that what began 59 years ago as developing ethics and morals in students is better than ever today.

As you tour the campus this afternoon you will notice graphics on the walls related to character development and positive relationships.  You will also notice a subtle Texas theme along with a sports/university theme.  As it began 59 years ago, Valley Oaks remains a very happy place in 2015.
Thank you for joining us this afternoon.  I would like to turn the podium over to our past and current PTA Presidents.  Both who have had an extremely integral part in continuing the long positive traditions at Valley Oaks.

Karin Donovan, Past President, Valley Oaks PTA

I am very honored to be here. I am speaking to you today, as a former Valley Oaks Elementary parent, a current VOE substitute teacher, and the PTA president during the time when this building was being designed.

I would like to read something from this almost 60 year-old book that I found in the PTA closet in May of 2013 when we were cleaning it out in preparation for the demolition of our old school building.

“The organizational meeting of the Valley Oaks Elementary Parent-Teacher Association was held in the school auditorium on October 8, 1956 at 8 P.M.”

These are the actual minutes from that very first Valley Oaks Elementary PTA meeting, which it says was attended by Superintendent Landrum among others. At that initial meeting, the slate of officers was presented and Mrs. W. E. Little was elected as the first president, and Mrs. T. H. Rosenstein was elected as the first historian. I think it is indicative of our community spirit that those leaders of our inaugural VOE PTA have great-grandchildren at our school right now, and that Kelli Little and Monica Rosenstein, the wives of their grandsons, currently serve on this very PTA board! That first year, the VOE PTA raised $1,537 for items like library books, a PA system, bicycle racks, coffee urns, a record player and athletic equipment. In reading through these historical documents, it surprised me how the more things change, the more they stay the same. The PTA still buys some of these types of items for our school. I cannot imagine that parents and teachers back in 1956 ever dreamed of a school this incredible for our children.

Mr. Henry believed that collaboration was the key to the successful design of this building. He assembled a Building Task Force, which met beginning in April of 2012 to help design this amazing school. Gathering parents, teachers, neighbors and community leaders and allowing them to influence design of this structure was very brave, but what came out of those meetings is the feeling that the community was an integral part of this magnificent building. If you were on that Building Task Force will you please stand? (WAIT) Thank you all for being a part of this important and collaborative effort.

Mr. Henry went one step further by assembling a Playground Task Force made up of a few children from each grade to help design the new playground. Now, that REALLY was courageous! My son served on that task force, and even though he and my daughter are now in middle school, he feels more a part of this beautiful school because Mr. Henry took the time to solicit his input as a student.

Thank you, Mr. Henry, for valuing the ideas of our parents, teachers, neighbors, local leaders and our children; and for spending countless hours making this new school, truly, a community effort. After reading through all of the minutes from that very first meeting, it is apparent that Valley Oaks Elementary is the heart and soul of our community, and this new building is the perfect place for our future eagles to learn to soar.

I would like to present this piece of history, which contains 23 years of Valley Oaks Elementary PTA minutes, to Mr. Henry and Ann Novero, our current PTA president, for safekeeping; hopefully, for the another 60+ years.


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