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Travis Celebrates Golden Anniversary

From the Baytown Sun:  

Published May 8, 2006

Students at Travis Elementary will begin this Friday like any other Friday.

They’ll file into their classrooms by 8 a.m., watch student-produced announcements on TV and sing “The Friday Song,” an end-of-week anthem written by music teacher Cora Bigwood.

Then at 9 a.m., a celebration will begin — a celebration marking 50 years of Travis Elementary’s high standard of education in Baytown.

“I wanted this to be something the children will remember,” said Travis principal Brenda Hastings-Gongora.

Friday’s festivities will include a reception for former teachers, students and principals, a picnic lunch and a fourth-grade presentation representing each decade of the school’s existence. A time capsule will be sealed, with plans for it to be reopened on the school’s 75th anniversary.

“Travis is one of Baytown’s best-kept secrets,” said Brenda Dykes, who served as principal from 1992-2004. “It’s a community, it’s a family. It’s just unique.”

Travis Elementary was built in 1955 in the then-new subdivision of Lakewood. Leon Legler, who was principal of David G. Burnet Elementary at the time, was hired to be the school’s new principal. He kept both jobs for a while, but eventually held only the Travis position.

Kathy Littlefield, now the dyslexia teacher at Travis, attended Travis during its early years.

“It started out as a small neighborhood school,” said Littlefield about Travis, which enrolled 160 students and had eight employees when it first opened.

Back then, students rode their bikes home for a quick lunch before returning to school for afternoon lessons. When Littlefield’s dog

followed her to school, a custodian named Mr. Carney took the dog back to her house.

And Legler was always good for a laugh. When heavy rains flooded the schoolyard one December, Legler dressed as Santa Claus and rode through the water in a boat. At Halloween, he dressed as a ghost and rode a bicycle around the school building.

His schoolyard antics aside, Legler was highly respected by students and teachers.

“He was a wonderful principal for us,” said Wynona Montgomery, current interim principal at Lamar Elementary who taught second grade at Travis for 13 years. “He set the standard for all the principals I would have from then on.”

Pat Blackburn, longtime teacher, volunteer and tutor at Travis, has never forgotten the way Legler interacted with faculty members.

“He never called anyone by name, only ‘Teacher’,” Blackburn said. “That to me was the best compliment I have ever received in my life.”

It was during Legler’s tenure that the mascot and colors were selected for the school. With Travis having existed 21 years without a mascot, the faculty decided to have an election for the students to nominate and vote on the mascot and colors. It was 1976 — an election year.

“We thought it would help the children understand the election,” said Linda Allen, whose daughter was a Travis student at the time.

The students voted for the orange-and-black Travis Tigers.

“Somehow, it turned out that the colors matched the mascot,” said Allen, who was later hired by principal Jepp Busch and continues to work in the Travis office.

Legler retired in 1979, and Busch became the school’s new principal.

“It was just a good place to be,” said Busch about the school.

When Busch arrived, Travis had grown since the 160 students had enrolled in the fall of 1955. But the school retained its small-school atmosphere — something Busch attributed to its teachers, parents and students.

Busch’s favorite memories of his years at Travis include the special activities, the fifth-grade fun days and the “Jeppy Awards,” which were tongue-in-cheek awards the teachers gave to each other at the end of the year.

In 1992, Busch was named GCCISD Administrator of the Year. He retired that year.

“Leaving was hard,” he said. “It’s always hard to leave the kids and the people you’ve been working with.”

Brenda Dykes, who had taught fourth and fifth grade math and science at Travis, was hired as the new principal. During her leadership, ExxonMobil’s partnership with Travis in the Partners in Education program flourished. Dykes had fostered that relationship as a teacher — something that would earn her the “Refiner of the Year” award in the mid-’80s.

“That was a big honor for me,” Dykes said.

Dykes also started the school’s community recycling program, which was the first of its kind in Baytown and is still in operation.

“One of my desires was that the students learn to be good community leaders,” she said.

And Travis was becoming renowned for its educational standards. From 1995-2000, the school was named a State Honor School with Recognized status. The school was named an Exemplary campus from 2001-2003.

As Travis continued to grow, it began outgrowing its aging facility. Construction began on a new building, and the old one was demolished in 2002. Many of the teachers and administrators kept a brick from the original facility.

“I loved the old building, but as principal, I knew we had to provide better facilities for our students,” Dykes said.

Although anticipation about the new building was growing, faculty and staff members felt bad for the fifth-graders that year, who would be moving on to junior high and wouldn’t get to attend school in the new building. To help those students feel like they were still a part of the new building, they were allowed to sign their names on the building’s steel girders.

“When that building is eventually torn down someday, they’ll find the names of all those fifth-graders on the girders,” Dykes said.

The new building opened in 2002, complete with two computer labs, a parent/resource learning center and a large, modern library. Art teacher Sandy Williams did the permanent artwork in the hallways. And Lakewood Garden Club members did a tremendous amount of landscaping around the new building, as they had at the old building, Dykes said.

After two years in the new building, Dykes chose to retire because of Social Security changes.

“I probably would have stayed there forever,” she said.

Since 2004, Gongora has served as principal of the school that has had only four principals in its 50 years of existence.

“I think the principals that have been here have been so dedicated that they’ve had long tenures,” Gongora said.

And even though the school’s enrollment has grown to 860, Travis has retained its family atmosphere.

“The faculty loves children and that’s 90 percent of it right there,” Blackburn said. “They’re not there for the paycheck.”

As part of the 50th anniversary celebration, Travis students will wear their orange school shirts and form a number 50 on the school grounds as a photographer in an airplane takes an aerial photograph. It will be a picture for the students to remember that no matter where life’s journey may take them, Travis will always be in their hearts.

“Once a Tiger, always a Tiger,” Dykes said.


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