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Up Close: School closing 'like a death in the family'

02:36 PM CDT on Sunday, June 26, 2005

By Carolyn Campbell / 11 News

Click to watch video

This summer is special for some students at Clinton Park Elementary, because it's their last one here.

KHOU

Losing the school is tough for the surrounding community that gave Clinton Park its name.

While the fifth and sixth graders work to master their math, their teachers are packing everything up because Clinton Park Elementary is closing its doors for good.

It's one of 10 HISD elementary schools closing because of low enrollment. The average HISD elementary school has about 750 students and Clinton Park's final enrollment was 148.

"The small class size, that's always a benefit," says teacher Tarrynce Robinson.

For more than half a century, Clinton Park has left its mark on hundreds of students, including 11 News reporter Carolyn Campbell, who attended kindergarten there.

"I don't want this school to close. All my family went here," says student Zasmin Green.

"I just feel like this is my home," says student Tishana Criff.

Closing is tough for the students and their teachers.

"It's like a death in the family. Two decades, Clinton Park is the only school I've ever taught and the only school I ever really want to teach," says teacher Josephine Espree.

"It's hurting, it's really a hurting thing," says PTA President Sheila Winbush-Hewett.

Losing the school is even tougher for the surrounding community that gave Clinton Park its name.

"It was definitely the nucleus of the community," says former student Tarsha Hardy.

These lifelong residents are part of the group that fought to keep the school open.

"We feel that Clinton Park has hit the bottom," says pastor Morris Jenkins, Jr.

But 50 years ago, when the school was first opened, this was a different neighborhood. Houston was a different city and, like most of the South, it was segregated.

Clinton Park is a small, isolated neighborhood that is just a stone's throw from the Port of Houston. It was one of the first communities developed for African-Americans in the state.

"They had a drugstore, they had a barber shop, they had a dentist up there, they had a grocery store. Also, they had a movie theater up there," says Winbush-Hewett.

There is not much left of that era. As Houston integrated and more neighborhoods became available to African-Americans,Clinton Park began to deteriorate.

"The community needs the school and without the school the community will perish because when young folks come to the community, when anyone comes to the community, the first thing they want to know is where's the school," says Mitchell.

"I hope that this building does not become an eyesore for the community," says Robinson.

"It's gonna be very difficult to draw any kind of major business in here now," Jenkins says.

But Pastor Morris Jenkins isn't ready to bury the school or the community.

"We have one of the largest ports, less than a minute away, so we think it's a good time for a renaissance in this community," he says.

He wants to develop affordable housing, starter homes for new families in Clinton Park.

"They just closing the building. The love and the bond we have at clinton Park, they can never close that," says Espree.

Closing the school has inspired residents to keep their community alive.

"The oxygen tank is hooked back up again," says Jenkins.

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