Melissa Gonzales, Refugio (Texas) ISD, Superintendent of Schools
“What an amazing journey we have embarked upon since Friday, August 25, 2017 when Hurricane Harvey forever changed life in Refugio and Refugio ISD! It is difficult to adequately describe the whirlwind that has ensued since that fateful day. The devastating storm and its aftermath seems as familiar as yesterday, yet in the distant past when considering all that has transpired in the last two years.
Hurricane Harvey did not occur in a vacuum. We were experiencing arguably the worst financial crisis in the district’s history, student enrollment was declining and property values were declining.
We were also in the midst of a $26 million dollar bond project that included the first renovation to our high school building since its construction in the 1950s. Because we were set to begin school on Monday, August 28, the high school project was in the finishing stages. The main high school building was gorgeous. The science labs were set to be completed very soon. The community was excited, the faculty was excited, and the students were excited. Two days before the storm, the building bustled with construction workers putting on the finishing touches, teachers who were busily preparing classrooms, and students who were picking up their schedules. I had yet to receive keys to the building.
On Thursday, August 24 we learned that Hurricane Harvey had quickly intensified. An evacuation order was issued. A powerful hurricane was heading our way. The predictions proved correct, Hurricane Harvey stalled over Refugio, and brought us to our knees.
Every building in the district was damaged including four high school science labs in the final stages of remodeling. Beautiful new storefront doors gave way to 160 mph wind leaving the labs exposed to the elements for the storm’s duration.
Two years down the road evidence of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction are still clearly visible. Our practice gym, our competition gym, our auditorium, our district administration building, and our science labs are still unable to be used. The high school office, the junior high office, and the counselor serving all 7-12 students were housed in corridors until a few weeks ago. Students in grades 7-12 were transported to the elementary cafeteria for breakfast and lunch for well over a year. Refugio ISD was without a library to serve 7th-12th grade students for many months.
Our children have been incredibly resilient. With 78 percent of our students qualifying for free/reduced lunch, they are accustomed to struggle. As a result of Hurricane Harvey, 95.2 percent of our students were considered homeless in the 2017-2018 school year when applying McKinney-Vento criteria.
In the midst of widespread devastation and confusion, we have witnessed the best in humanity. One of the finest examples of the blessings we have received is an outpouring of support from Rebuild Texas Fund, Qatar Harvey Fund, and Learning Undefeated. With two junior high science labs serving all 7-12 grade students, science lab experiences would be significantly limited. On the contrary, Refugio ISD students have had access to state of the art, relevant science instruction, equipment and material. In the two school years since Hurricane Harvey, Refugio ISD was awarded an Academic Distinction for Science from the Texas Education Agency in 2018 and in 2019 Refugio High School earned the same honor. Our deepest gratitude to Rebuild Texas Fund, Qatar Harvey Fund, and Learning Undefeated for helping make those honors possible.
Your generosity has provided hope and encouragement in our darkest hours. On behalf of 689 school children and 163 employees of Refugio ISD, I offer our sincere gratitude.”