Celebrating East Ward Legacy

East Ward 66 Years
By: Todd Martin
Tearful farewell gave way Thursday to joyful celebration when East Ward Elementary School marked 66 years of service and a legacy that promises to endure.
The building at 1608 E. Rancier Avenue is Killeen ISD’s oldest operating school. Following the last day of the current school year, demolition will begin in preparation for construction of a new school scheduled to begin June 11 with a re-opening in 2021.
Multiple speakers, including a pair of East Ward teachers who attended the school, spoke of a tight-knit community that nurtures children, includes the whole family and embraces a network of supporters.
Superintendent John Craft pointed out the farewell is temporary. Voters approved a $426 million bond issue a year ago that includes construction of a three-level school on the same site that will consolidate the East Ward, West Ward and part of Bellaire elementary school attendance zones. Students and staff will relocate to the new Maude Moore Wood Elementary School before returning to the new school on Rancier Avenue.
Still, saying goodbye is emotional. Teachers Richard Crow and Jamie Foster, former East Ward students, stood together and testified to their life-changing experiences going to class in the same building where they now teach a new generation.
Crow, the son of military parents, lived a block away. His own first-grade teacher, Mrs. Sweeney, left such an impression that he held onto a T-shirt from that class. He held up the tiny, faded shirt to the cheers of the large audience in the East Ward cafeteria.
“That’s where I received my calling to come home to East Ward,” Crow said, describing his 1991 graduation from Killeen High School and eventual work for Boeing. Serving as a scout leader reminded him of his love for mentoring children. “This is my why, the children,” he said.
“I’ve said I would teach here until the walls come down,” Crow said to the knowing laughter of the East Ward supporters. “Like a church, this school is not just a building, it’s about the people.” He is in his 16th year teaching at East Ward.
His colleague, Foster, also emotional, attended East Ward as a fifth-grader where her teacher, Karen Allen-Smith, struck a similar chord. Foster graduated from Killeen High School in 2006 and is in her eighth year teaching at East Ward.
“She cared and she didn’t give up on me,” Foster said, explaining her teacher’s impact. “She took the time to build a strong relationship with my mom. I remember I told her ‘I’ll be back,’” she said.
Jo-Lynette Crayton, principal at East Ward from 2005 to 2009, charged the community of educators, families and supporters to continue the school’s strong legacy of education and caring. She referred to the school property as “sacred ground.”
“It’s a feeling that resides in your bones,” said Crayton, now KISD executive director for elementary leadership. She urged educators to continue to celebrate their community, provide a safe place, be a second home for students, treat all people honorably and celebrate the past and present.
“East Ward is more than a school,” she said. “It will live in this community and in our hearts forever.”
Another speaker, Communities in Schools Site Director David Woodberry praised the school for embracing him for 26 years. A native of the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and a military veteran, Woodberry said he wasn’t sure if he was cut out for children, but that the school embraced him warmly.
Even East Ward’s name speaks to its history. East Ward and its close north Killeen partner, West Ward Elementary School, a few blocks to the northwest, get their names from the city’s former voting wards, Craft explained.
East Ward opened in 1952 and West Ward, at 709 W. Dean Avenue, opened in 1953. The schools occupied their respective wards on either side of Main Street, now called Gray Street in the north part of town.
Like KISD as a whole, East Ward’s history is marked by steady growth. It opened with 10 classrooms and expanded in 1956 and in 1995.
“We’re so excited to provide a much-improved facility,” said Craft. “The goodbye is only temporary. In two years, we will say hello and have a dedication ceremony for a new school. You are East Ward and you will forever be East Ward.”