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Fox teachers move into their temporary home

School entrance
David Lee
The entrance to Clark Springs Elementary School. Clings on the windows allow those inside to see out with allowing those outside to see in. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Fox Elementary teachers moved their things into Clark Springs Elementary School this week, where students will finish out the school year and where they’ll remain for the foreseeable future.

A February fire destroyed the century-old Fox Elementary building in the Fan. The fire department has begun work needed to stabilize the original structure before efforts to restore and reconstruct the school can begin. It’s unclear when students will move back into their old school.

Clark Springs – originally built in 1967 – closed in 2013 but has been used as a swing space when needed as well as for professional development trainings and storage.

Pat Woodberry, a gifted and talented teacher, will work with students in a small classroom within a classroom at Clark Springs. This is a common setup at the school, and other interventionists will work with students in similar spaces. Four classrooms have also been set up in common areas using room dividers, and a district spokesperson says there will be trailers at the school next year for at minimum these four classrooms.

“I'm elated to be anywhere,” Woodberry said. “And to know that none of my students were hurt. And all of our faculty are here. And we have our totem pole!”

Woodberry says the totem pole, the result of a student art project, is a landmark of Fox. She says it’s been at the school for over a decade along with another art project - a big boat that Fox principal Daniela Jacobs says was constructed years ago with the help of an artist-in-residence.

“Now it’s [the boat] back in its rightful place in the front hall,” said Sarah Abubaker, a spokesperson for RPS, on a tour of Clark Springs.

The fire department was able to salvage and clean a handful of sentimental items from the school, including the boat and totem pole, according to the district.

“Little things, but … [they] remind you of home,” Woodberry said.

Reading and math interventionists will have the same setup as Woodberry, partnering with classroom teachers. Reading interventionist Keri Treadway was stacking donated books on shelves Wednesday afternoon in her small-group space inside another teacher’s classroom; a curtain acts as the door to her mini-classroom.

“We’re still pretty tight, but we’re making it work the best we can,” Treadway said.

Her classroom materials were destroyed in the fire. She purchased teal organizing bins among other things using a $500 Amazon gift card the district provided to teachers. She laid down a teal rug in her new space that matches a teal theme she had in her classroom at Fox. The destruction included decodable books, which help students learn phonics, that she’d fundraised for on DonorsChoose. After the fire, Treadway says one of the original donors reached out and offered to replace the books.

“Which was amazing because these are thousands of dollars,” Treadway said.

Treadway said she cleaned up a roof leak while unpacking her things this week. When it leaked again the following morning, she said RPS quickly sent a roofer out to repair it. The school is in need of a new roof, but the $1.3 million replacement cost isn’t in the district’s budget this year. There were reported roof leaks at numerous other Richmond schools last year, according to repair requests submitted to district staff.

The district made a number of improvements and modifications to prepare for Fox students to come to Clark Springs, including addressing mold. A recent mold test found the school was safe for students, and quarterly mold tests will be conducted moving forward. The report indicated that the school’s leaky roof – which was initially slated for replacement as far back as 2015 – was the source of the mold.

The entire school was repainted, and eco-friendly water bottle fillers were installed throughout the school as well as window clings that allow students and staff to see out of the building but don’t allow those outside to look in.

Picnic tables were added to the spacious outside playground area, and volunteers painted hopscotch squares for the kids. Abubaker says there are also plans to paint a pickleball court for students. Playground equipment was brand new when the school closed in 2013.

Fox teacher Cindy Dejnozka was putting name tags on desks in her Clark Springs classroom Wednesday afternoon. She’s happy she has desks for her students here, which she didn’t have at First Baptist Church. There’s a door from her new classroom that leads directly outside to a tennis court, where Dejnozka says she’s looking forward to doing hands-on – and sometimes messy – outdoor learning projects.

“So happy to be here, but then at the same time … the sadness of losing that building at 2300 [Hanover Ave.] hits you when you come in here [Clark Springs],” Dejnozka said.

Students had this week off to allow teachers time to move into their new space. Students will resume classes Monday, May 9.

Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.