By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

SLOCUM – Sitting like a sapphire against a backdrop of emerald forest, the newly constructed Slocum High School opened its doors for the first time ever at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

Designed by the architectural firm of Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong and built by Berry and Clay Construction, the facility was financed by a $3.3 million bond. The district had previously developed a long range savings plan and had acquired $2.7 million to use as a “down payment” of sorts.

The new facility was initially tabbed to cost $6 million but when $2.7 million was applied, the bond’s price tag was lowered to the $3.3 million mark. As students, faculty, staff and residents of the Slocum community will tell you, the new high school appears to be worth every penny.

Earlier this month, Slocum High School Principal Errin Deer extended an offer to The Messenger to tour the ultra-modern educational facility and answer any questions which might come up.

The first thing a visitor to the new SHS campus notices is the security measures put in place by the district. There is one entrance to the school and it is controlled electronically in the school offices. Because of the building design, visitors are routed through the office where their identification is checked electronically and a visitor’s badge is issued.

After being greeted in the office, the principal showed off the school’s office arrangement and walked through a side door into the main area of the school.

The first area Deer went through was the gymnasium. She toured the locker rooms and coaches’ offices which were designed for comfort and functionality. The gym area itself is on par with many 4A or 5A schools and is equipped with stadium seating in a horseshoe arrangement. As the gym was explored, it was noticed there was not really a bad seat in the arena.

The cafeteria, kitchen area and concession stands are located behind the “u” of the horseshoe which allowed for more seating while the open end led to the locker room and offices.

Walking through the hallways, Deer pointed out several pieces of what looked like artwork but were in actuality sound boards which helped to muffle noise in the hallways.

Following the tour, the principal recalled the faculty and staff were moving their items from one school to the next up until the day before school started.

“It was quite hectic at the start, but it has smoothed out a lot since then,” she said with a laugh.

When asked about the initial reactions from students and parents, Deer said they were amazed. She said the district had hosted a “meet and greet” on the Thursday before the 2016-2017 school year got underway.

“Overall, when the parents and community came in and they were just amazed. They were amazed at how large the classrooms are to fulfill the academic needs of the students and they were amazed at the gymnasium. We have also refurbished the other building and we have combined several of the classrooms,” she explained.

While Slocum has several long term teachers, Deer was asked if she felt the new school and the district’s positive academic reputation would help retain newer employees in the district.

“Possibly so,” she said. “We do have a good retention of our teachers. We did get Mrs. Bundy from Westwood and when (Slocum ISD Superintendent) Mr. (Cliff) Lasiter showed her the new science lab, she was very excited. She said that basically sealed the deal.”

Discipline has also improved at the high school level, Deer indicated. She said it was due in part to a sense of pride and ownership in the school displayed by the students.

“I don’t know if it’s because these kids have something of their own and being out away from the little ones, but they are really stepping up. We have had a great year so far, discipline wise.”

One of the new features in the building is an upgrade to the culinary arts part of the building design. The culinary program now has a fully equipped commercial style kitchen which allows the students greater creativity and to pursue different avenues in the culinary world.

“We have a restaurant management class, a culinary arts program and
a principles of hospitality and tourism class,” she said.

Deer added Regina Grant, the culinary arts teacher would be exploring adding a food handler’s certification course to the program.

“We’re kind of our own little community over here. Over at the other school, I was up front and the high school wing was at the back. We are more self-contained. The community is excited for the most part. There may have been some who were not on board initially, but the overall reactions have been happiness and excitement,” she said.

Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.