Leaders of the Coleman Junior High campus have taken the appearance of the refurbished school into their own hands to create a home for the first class of Chiefs.

When the new staff initially experienced the converted high school, they saw a canvass with the potential for an innovative environment to teach. But the first question was, "where to start?"

It was near the end of June when Rae Whitehead, the art teacher, stepped into her classroom, which consisted of two science labs.

“Space! I was super excited about that," Whitehead expressed. "The amount of storage — I have two storage rooms — far beyond what I need. The potential was extremely exciting."

When she arrived, the district had already renovated the room by creating an open entryway between the two labs. In the past month and a half, Whitehead and her husband, Chris, have worked alongside the maintenance teams to convert the room. Together they unbolted lab tables and made sure holes in the floor were secured. The district maintenance team also painted the trim and completed sheetrock work.

Whitehead gave a significant recognition.

“It’s Michael Craig. He’s the hero in all of this," Whitehead emphasized. "He brings a sense of calm in a world of chaos. And he even visited with me last year about asking me what my dream and vision was in this room."

Whitehead herself completed an abundance of the cleaning, organizing, and painting. She lugged out 20 dolly loads of leftover materials from the previous science teachers and then applied three coats of paint to her walls. Now, Whitehead is ready to put on the finishing touches while maintenance wraps up some remaining projects in her room.

In total, Whitehead estimated a solid 100 hours put into her art classroom.

“We spend a lot of time as teachers in these rooms — more time away than at home, so you want it to feel comfortable,” Whitehead elaborated. “But you also have to think about all the time the students are in these rooms, and you want them to want to come in. We are battling that as teachers anyway.”

This year was also a transition in the curriculum for most of the teachers. Whitehead transferred from the Waxahachie Ninth Grade Academy after 11 years. Now, she will teach all three middle school levels of art along with an advanced course. Not only is she focused on organizing her classroom but her lesson plans, as well.

Stephanie Rieper also spent the last 11 years at WNGA as a math teacher and will now instruct eighth graders. The Coleman experience for her is advanced as she was promoted to department head as well. This is her first year to teach middle school but is passionate about the challenge.

Rieper agreed she spent most of the second part of her summer preparing her room and the entire summer preparing for her curriculum that still needs work.

“Believe it or not, teachers are planning all summer,” Rieper disclosed. “We sit at home and find lessons and plan a lot. That’s the stuff I haven’t done, and it will get done. I know it will it’s just a little bit stressful because it’s not done in the time I need to feel comfortable.”

With two weeks before school starts, her classroom still needs some work too. In a 20-hour project, she repainted her class. Rieper was thankful to have some experience after painting several homes when the pho-finish was popular, yet painting cinderblock walls had its challenges.

“One of the reasons why I think the teachers here are working so hard is because we feel like our kids deserve a new school," Rieper stressed. "We know it’s not a new building and is an established place, but we want them to walk in and feel the pride of our new campus."

“For me, it’s giving those kids what they deserve,” she added.

Through the sweat, the Coleman faculty have bonded and established relationships before the first day of school. Naturally, a leadership committee formed at the WNGA last year to set plans and instill a vision for Coleman. That group comprised of Whitehead, Rieper, Lisa Minton, who heads students service for Coleman, principal Brad Andrews, and assistant principals Daniel Hobbs and Cynthia Williams.

Not all of the plans have been implemented, but the two teachers assured the vision would be achieved over time.

“We are working hard. There are just so many ideas, but there are not enough hands, people and time to get it all done. We’d like to put inspirational quotes on the walls and do-up the bathrooms,” Rieper relayed.

“I want to do everything I can for our kids,” Rieper reassured.

Minton, a campus leader, worked as the AP human geography teacher at the WNGA and now works in student services. She too has spent numerous hours revamping the office space with painted walls, and she even learned how to repair sheetrock. Minton also witnessed the staff begin to transform the school. She expressed how the Coleman vision is fueling these projects.

“We are kid-centered — every decision that is made, the kids are put first,” Minton affirmed. “We would rather make it harder on ourselves if it makes it better for the kids. We are willing to sacrifice for them.”

Minton agreed that the countless hours repainting and repairing classrooms has brought the teachers together.

“What I’ve watched is people are seeing each other give and you know it’s when we pour out our hearts and see someone else standing there along with us, it can’t help but unite you. That’s what I’ve watched happen,” she relayed.

Minton then singled out Whitehead and her energies in creating a comforting and inspiring classroom and environment throughout the school. “They are looking into the heart of a child and the mind of a child and how they can inspire them. I just love that because that’s the beauty to me," she described.

As she fought back a tear, Minton expressed how the teachers have genuinely inspired her. “We are going to have kids walk through that door that don't necessarily have a beautiful life. To know that we have people willing to give themselves to those kids so they can feel welcomed, is so inspiring to me.”

“We don’t know where we hit people along the way,” Minton added. “Sometimes we are the seed planters, sometimes we water or are the pruner, or we get to view the beautiful flower. But we have a job to do, and I see the staff here take that job on.”

Several Waxahachie ISD trustees have also walked through the campus as the teachers have applied the finishing touches, which included board president Dusty Autrey.

"The hard work and dedication I witnessed when I walked through the halls at Coleman Junior High was not surprising," Autrey shared. "I witnessed first hand the dedication and commitment that WISD looks for in our teachers, administrators and all of our support staff. When I saw all the staff working together, not only at Coleman but Wilemon Elementary as well, it just proves to me why our district is great."

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450