OAK POINT — Bulldozers still rumbled in the background as parents dropped their kids off for the first day of school at Rodriguez Middle School on Wednesday.
Administrators welcomed 611 newly minted Vipers to Denton ISD's eighth middle school, which is in Oak Point. Rodriguez was approved as part of the 2013 bond package to alleviate overcrowding at Navo Middle School, which housed 1,381 students last year. Its capacity is 1,000 students.
Rodriguez Principal Renee Koontz said although construction workers still have to add finishing touches to the new $48.2 million building, crews worked through Tuesday night to make sure everything was ready to go on the first day.
"I'm excited and relieved that we're finally here," she said. "You want everything to be perfect when the kids get here. It doesn't matter if it's a new building or one that's 20 years old."
Workers still have to landscape the front entrance, put down flooring in the practice gym, install furniture in the courtyards and finish up a classroom wing.
Despite a few loose ends, staffers and students said they liked the look of their school. Brightly colored tiles covered the walls as natural light streamed through floor-to-ceiling windows. Kids bounded up a wide staircase looking for one of 42 classrooms. Two courtyards provided an opportunity for fresh air throughout the day.
The school's namesakes, Rudy and Rosemary Rodriguez, greeted students in the gym and marveled at the building that bore their name. Rudy served on the Denton ISD school board, while Rosemary worked as a district social worker for decades. Both have been longtime advocates of public education.
"You can feel the excitement," Rosemary Rodriguez said as kids zipped past her. "I want the students to have good memories and experiences, something they can build on in the future. We're fully confident that will happen here."
One person missing from all the first-day revelry was Eric Hauser, who was appointed as an assistant principal at Rodriguez until recently. He was removed from his position after publishing a children's book that featured characters often used in white supremacist circles.
According to a district press release, Hauser asked for reassignment after coming under fire for his book. District spokesman Mario Zavala said Hauser is on paid administrative leave and will be reassigned to another district position away from a campus.
The Rodriguezes said they were disappointed to learn about Hauser's book, but will continue to support the district their children and grandchildren grew up in.
"The most important outcome stemming from the unfortunate incident last week was the statement from [Superintendent] Dr. Wilson affirming the commitment of Denton ISD schools to the success of all students," Rudy Rodriguez said. "This means making sure each student has access to a caring and nurturing environment in which they feel safe and comfortable regardless of their language and cultural differences."
All around the district, 28,217 students kicked off a new school year, albeit earlier than usual.
Typically, districts aren't allowed to start school before the fourth Monday of August. However, schools can opt into a "District of Innovation" program that allows for some wiggle room on state mandates.
Denton ISD changed its calendar in January and received some blowback from parents who felt summer vacation was being cut short. However, kids roaming the halls in fresh sneakers Wednesday didn't seem to mind the early start.
"I'm actually happy about it," sixth-grader Reese Knight said. "It means we'll get out earlier for summer."
Settle in, Reese. It's a long road to next summer.
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.