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Piece of Mind: Princeton to Ring Bell at New Elementary School

When you are an educator in a rapidly growing school district, you resort at times to relying on your best guess for what the future holds. It’s difficult, for example, to predict how many students will be under your care when you ring the school bell for the first time at the start of a new academic year.

So it is with Jeff Coburn, the newly named principal of a shiny new elementary school under construction in Princeton. Coburn projects a student enrollment of about 400 children at Dorothy Lowe Elementary School. However, he adds that “by the start of the second semester, I am pretty sure we’re going to be well north of that figure.” The school will be staffed by 48 faculty and support staff, Coburn said. Some of the teachers will be veteran educators transferred from other campuses and, of course, the school will have its share of freshly scrubbed college graduates starting their educational careers.

There you have it. The principal, an 18-year educational veteran of the Princeton Independent School District, cannot project with any certainty … at all!

Construction crews are putting what looks like the finishing touches on the new school. Coburn said plans call for the exterior property to see “final grading” this week. Then they’ll lay down the sod, plant shrubs around the building, and then secure the playgrounds to ensure the children are safe.

Then school will commence on Aug. 15, said Coburn, when they “ring the bell” for the first time.

Who was Dorothy Lowe, the woman after whom they named the school? Coburn described her as a “beloved elementary school teacher” who taught in Princeton ISD for 36 years, from 1950 until her retirement in 1986. She died a few years ago, Coburn said. “She was a longtime Princeton resident,” Coburn said, who taught elementary-age children, meaning she taught everything from penmanship to English and history.

PISD established a citizens committee to come up with names of two schools that will open at the same time: Lowe Elementary and a middle school that is about to open on Monte Carlo Boulevard. The middle school will be named after a couple from Princeton, the Southards.

“So, we’ll have Southard Middle School and Dorothy Lowe Elementary School opening at the same time,” Coburn said.

Coburn has spent his entire teaching career at Princeton High School. He served PHS for 17 years as a teacher and coach before accepting a promotion four years ago as assistant principal. Coburn earned his bachelor’s degree in health and kinesiology from Texas A&M University-Commerce and then earned his master’s degree in educational administration from Lamar University in Beaumont.

Princeton ISD – which covers about 60 square miles – is feeling intense growth pressure along with the rest of the Collin County community. PISD enrolls about 5,000 students but that figure is certain to skyrocket in the years to come. The new Dorothy Lowe Elementary School sits next to a subdivision, Arcadia Farms, that is sprouting homes almost daily. Across Beauchamp Street is the Brookside development; there’s also the Creek View, Princeton Village and Settlers Creek neighborhoods that will feed students into Lowe.

The Dorothy Lowe Elementary School attendance boundary will run from U.S. 380 – the zone’s northern boundary, according to Coburn – to Farm to Market Road 982 to the east and then south to County Road 400, with Myrick Lane serving as the attendance zone’s southern boundary.

Coburn saw the challenge of helping build a school from the ground up, he said. “I always have liked working in a place where there was nothing before,” he added.

Yes, the growth in PISD has placed an “enormous strain” on the system. PISD voters have just approved a bond issue totaling $237 million that will pay for construction of five more campuses. Dorothy Lowe Elementary School is being built with money generated by a bond issue that PISD voters approved in 2017.

The money will pay for two technology labs where the students will be able to work on projects computers, and of course a library where they will be able to check out books to read in a “nook” being built inside the school.

For his part, the new principal spends his days darting from point to point throughout the Lowe Elementary School campus ensuring that the work gets done – in time for the start of new school year.

His No. 1 task while the school construction continues? “I just am trying,” Coburn said, “to stay out of the way.”

John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.

Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.

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