20 Years Strong!Dec 01, 2015 ● By Christi Redfearn
We all know about the growth that soon followed. Frisco now has more than 53,000 students in eight high schools, 15 middle schools and 38 elementary schools. There will be multiple schools opening each year for at least the next three years. Did you know that the district adds between 2,500 and 3,500 students per year, according to their website? The level of growth does not show any signs of slowing!
The thought was, way back when, to keep FISD schools small, no matter how large the city became, and the teachers at Curtsinger Elementary tend to agree with this sentiment. They feel that students have more opportunities to shine, have more chances to get involved in activities that interest them and it aims to create an atmosphere of acceptance where everyone is friends with everyone.
Through it all, Curtsinger Elementary has been an example for other schools, a place to establish tradition and an embodiment of the school district’s mission to know every student by name and need. They also hold their own school motto, “anchored in excellence,” very dear. The story of the school’s past 20 years has been celebrated throughout 2015, both by current students, past graduates, families and teachers.
The teachers and staff have stories from the beginning as well as stories that continue to shape their students’ educational paths today. Students come back to visit on a regular basis. Teachers that do move on, typically do so to accept a promotion or to go into administration. Curtsinger Elementary is a neighborhood school focused on education and building the team spirit around Centennial High School. The Tiny Titans are a force, and it is impressive to watch the students show their school spirit.
Curtsinger Elementary, like every other school in Frisco, was named for a prominent citizen. Claude Curtsinger and his father opened the first drug store in Frisco, and Mr. Curtsinger served on the FISD School Board, the City Council and was heavily involved with the community until his death in 1973. To honor his legacy and history, everyone involved with Curtsinger Elementary is working hard this year to honor the past and celebrate this exciting 20-year anniversary.
The school wanted to observe the anniversary in a big way. First and foremost, Laverne Forwark, the school’s art teacher, got every student involved in creating a beautiful art installation featuring the school’s colors. There are 20 sailboats celebrating the past 20 years and the school’s motto. It has been proudly on display in the main hallway near the cafeteria and stage, where everyone can see it and appreciate the work that went into it. Not only was it a major project, but it required the students to work together beyond their usual classes.
Mrs. Forwark has been with Curtsinger Elementary for 19 years, and all three of her children attended the school. She has been involved in all kinds of activities beyond art, but she is very proud to be the one who teaches students about art and all its possibilities. When reflecting back on the changes over the years, Mrs. Forwark said, “When I got here, there were 350-375 students total, if even that, and every year it grew and grew. We added another pod built onto the school. We went through portable buildings and growing pains.” Through it all, the teachers and staff supported and encouraged their students to learn. She added that when the school first opened, the neighborhood looked very different. “I live in the neighborhood. My street was half of a street, not even finished out, and across from the school was a field of sunflowers. There were a lot of new houses with a lot of new families with young kids, and we watched the school get built.”
Coach Ricky Beeler, the school’s PE teacher for 19 years, noted that the school’s first principal, Mrs. Boyce, “grew up in Frisco, graduated from Frisco High in the 1960s and was the daughter of Reba Cobb Kerry,” another notable figure in Frisco history and the secretary for Dr. Wakeland, the former superintendent of the district. As noted, tradition and history have run deep with the school from the beginning.
Coach Beeler also commented on one example of Curtsinger Elementary handling the changes that have always come their way. He said, “Back then, Frisco High School had Spirit Night. Staley Middle School would be in one section, Rogers Elementary School would be in another and we would be in the middle section. All of the schools built a float; we marched in the parade; we all wore raccoon hats (the high school’s mascot); and it was a lot of fun.” In 2003, the school found out they would have a different feeding pattern and would become part of Centennial High School, the second high school. For a little while, Curtsinger Elementary supported both schools -- red, white and blue for the Titans and blue and gold for the Raccoons, until the transitions could be completed. “We have been the Tiny Titans ever since,” he said.
The school PTA created a memory walkway around the school grounds years ago. It started as a fundraising effort selling bricks, but the project has evolved into a nice tribute to students and families who have been through the school. The unique school even has a reunion every spring. There is cake and punch and people can reunite and take pictures. Even teachers who have left come back to see their former students!
Curtsinger Elementary has made such an impression on young people that a couple students have come back as teachers. Alexa Applebee, a third-grade teacher, said, “There is so much culture behind it all from Frisco. Even though it is a big city now, Curtsinger Elementary makes it feel small because of the tradition.” Maggie Sztaba-Golson, a first-grade teacher, added, “I feel like I am at home. It is really great to work with some of the teachers who inspired me to become a teacher.”
Curtsinger Elementary can also claim to be the originator of a few traditions that are now carried out district-wide. Coach Beeler said, “We started ‘Good Morning Curtsinger’ and now it is all over. We were the first to dress alike for convocation and ride the bus together.” He went on to say they were the ones who stood out as the odd balls among the rest of the schools, but soon the rest followed. Curtsinger Elementary teachers think they showed their school spirit the best and the other schools wanted to be a part of the fun!
Pam Hamlin, a fifth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher, has been teaching at the school since it opened. She said Mrs. Boyce (the first principal) recruited her to teach at Curtsinger Elementary after having already taught at the high school and middle school levels. Ms. Hamlin sums up the history of the school as a lot of growth. “When we first started, we knew every child. The changes have gone from a small town to a big city,” she said. She said the kids are what have kept her teaching at the same place, and she just loves the neighborhood school. “Our hearts are in it. We know all of the families and we know the kids, so there is just a warmth here more than just a regular school.”
Kandace Morgan is one of the school nurses. “When I was hired 20 years ago, I was a part-time nurse, and there were only two nurses in the district,” she said. She always stayed part-time to work around her children’s schedules. Now, she subs on her days off or helps with new nurses. “Our neighborhood is getting older, but the school is as great as it was on day one,” she added.
Principal Angie Borgarello and assistant principal Wendy Hudson may be relatively new to the Curtsinger Elementary family (Ms. Hudson is in her second year and Mrs. Borgarello joined in 2009), but they both instantly saw what made the school so special. Ms. Hudson had been around the school prior to officially joining the staff and she said it was one of her top choices when she chose to become an assistant principal. “I have had the joy of working with the staff, but also the parents and students. They just wrap it all up and take care of it.” Mrs. Borgarello said, “It did not take me long to see the sense of community that the parents, students and staff have created here. Once you become part of the community, you become part of the family, which is much bigger than what you ever expected.”
One of the stories Principal Borgarello shared was an example of how far the teachers go to help their students. It seems that several students were nervous about taking the STAAR® test for the first time, so the teachers got together to create “The Wizard of STAAR.” The staff dressed up as different characters to act out a full theater production short play. The goal was to teach the kids not to be scared of the test and to have courage. She said it was something that happened organically. No one from the administration made the suggestion--it was just something the teachers wanted to do to help the kids.
On Nov. 6, the school held a fall celebration that was put together by the PTA. The celebration was to commemorate 20 years of excellence by inviting current and former students, families and teachers to come together over pizza, drinks and dessert, while enjoying the music of Dallas native, Eddie Coker, a children’s music singer and songwriter. More than 300 people RSVP’d!
In 2006, Curtsinger Elementary became a Blue Ribbon School. Even though it is a nationally recognized achievement, it is not what makes the school so special. Repeatedly, teachers and staff talked about the Curtsinger Elementary family and the teachers who live in the neighborhood and feel that much more invested in the success of the kids they teach. They have former students who came back as teachers and they have students who graduate from college and want to do something to give back to the school that started them down their educational paths.
Texas A&M University has a saying: “From the outside looking in, you can never understand it. From the inside looking out, you can never explain it.” That saying is also fitting for Curtsinger Elementary. While most teachers will tell you their job is a calling, the teachers at this school seem to take it one step further. Their chosen profession is not just a calling, it is a way of life. The pride and the joy each teacher has for his or her students goes beyond the FISD’s mission. There is the magic of tradition at Curtsinger Elementary and every student is lucky to be a part of it.