Three Dallas ISD schools could be declared total losses

It is possible the three Dallas ISD schools badly damaged by the EF-3 tornado could be declared a total loss.

The school board was updated on damage assessment Tuesday at an emergency meeting called to address the issues.

An estimated timetable of up to three years was projected for rebuilding Thomas Jefferson High, Cary Middle School and Walnut Hill Elementary at their current locations. But another idea is being floated about how to provide for those students.

FEMA will be in Dallas Wednesday touring the 21 Dallas ISD schools damaged by the EF-3 tornado. Insurance adjusters have already done their evaluations. Engineers are now examining structures.

Architects are assessing the three schools most severely damaged to determine how they could be rebuilt IF the district decides to rebuild them.


An idea getting a lot of attention is to create one big K-12 campus where Thomas Jefferson High is instead of rebuilding the three individually.

“There’s a lot of details to be taken care of. I’m certainly not opposed to it,” said Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa. “There’s a lot of details to be worked out, but that could be very exciting.”

Dallas ISD Superintendent of Operations and COO Scott Layne says it is all going to take some time.

“This is a marathon,” he said. “We’re trying to get to the front line of the marathon by doing as much as we can ahead of time.”

Following an emergency school board meeting, Layne explained that it could take as long as three years to design and build a school.

But what trustees did Tuesday could make that process faster, making an emergency declaration so the district does not have to get bids to hire contractors.

“There is going to be some pressure to move quickly in this marathon,” Hinojosa said.

Administrators told the board that $1 million has been spent so far, and they expect that to be reimbursed by insurance.

Hinojosa reassured that it should not affect taxpayers.

“We are very fortunate that we have a robust insurance program,” he said. “We actually have a lot of reserve.”

And there was an update for the TJ, Cary and Walnut Hill students who were relocated. They will likely remain at their new campuses through the end of the school year at a minimum.

Dallas ISD Trustee Edwin Flores believes it could be away for the district to create something better than it had before. He is a strong supporter of the K-12 campus idea.

“I've spoken to a lot of people that are thinking a lot of schools in this area are K-12,” Flores said. “Why haven't we ever thought of building a K-12 school?”

The iconic Walnut Hill Elementary earned the prestigious blue ribbon status for academic excellence.

“Walnut Hill is a program designed around Talented and Gifted students, dual language English Spanish since the 40s and also has a Chinese program,” Flores said.

Right now, many of those students move to different magnet schools after elementary, rather than continue on to Cary Middle or Thomas Jefferson High School.

But with a K-12 model, Flores says the district could house schools within schools, similar to its collegiate academies.

“Once you start as a young family and put your kids in school and you know they will go to the pre-K, elementary, middle school, high school, the siblings are at the same school, it’s one location,” Flores said. “It's a very natural thing. I grew up with it. It seems like a normal thing to do.”

Dallas City Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates represents the area.

“We want to work with DISD,” she said. “It is crucial for our city to have a strong school district.”

Gates says it's the first time she's heard of the K-12 idea.

“If it is zoning or decisions related to land use, we're going to work with them to make sure they build the schools that serve the youth,” she said.

Flores says with a K-12 model there would still be separate school buildings, but students would share resources like athletic fields and the library.

It will be close to Thanksgiving before a cost estimate as to how much damage was done to the district. The superintendent says the district experienced more than 300 students drop attendance after the tornado, but he has already seen about 150 of those students return to school.

Hinojosa says the district will apply for waivers with the state to receive some assistance because of that attendance drop.