Grand re-opening celebration held for Dallas ISD schools destroyed by 2019 tornado

A grand reopening celebration was held Saturday for two schools in Dallas that were destroyed by a tornado in 2019.

The schools, Thomas Jefferson High School and Walnut Hill International Leadership Academy, now have state of the art campuses for students and educators to enjoy.

"Because I think we can all agree that there’s no place like home," Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie S. Elizalde.

Students returning "home" after their Northwest Dallas neighborhood was wrecked by a tornado in October 2019.

"I was heartbroken. I just couldn’t believe that the school was gone, like, I had been to this school since like pre-k," 8th grader Mia Gonzalez recalled.

Gonzalez was in 5th grade when the tornado hit. Her school, Walnut Hill Academy, was one of three schools destroyed. 

"It was a big surprise," teacher Alma Pantya said. "I was very thankful that it was a Sunday and that nobody got hurt."

Teachers like Pantya and their students were temporarily transferred to other schools. Now, more than three years later, Thomas Jefferson High School is celebrating its re-opening. About 75% of the original 64-year-old building was destroyed.

RELATED: Dallas ISD schools destroyed by 2019 tornado finally reopen

"This school will be here for another 50, 60, 70, 100 years, maybe," said Joe Carreon, who is Dallas ISD Trustee for District 8.

"We pray that it would be a place of safe refuge," Walnut Hill Church Rev. Melissa Nelms said.

Next door to Thomas Jefferson High is Walnut Hill International Leadership Academy, which is combining both Walnut Hill Elementary School and Cary Middle School. They were both a loss following the tornadoes.

"The original Walnut Hill, about 90% of the building was destroyed during the tornado," Walnut Hill International Academy Principal Dr. Philip Meaker said.

Students believe the new schools give them hope.

"It is what we all need if we are going to accomplish anything," one person at the re-opening said. "If you lose hope, you lose the vitality that keeps life moving."

The roughly $200 million taxpayer funded project would not have been possible without voters passing a bond referendum in 2015.

"So that our students have every single opportunity to be able to achieve the American Dream," Carreon said.

"We saw the community at-large who came to our rescue," Pantya added.

Now, for students, there’s a new sense of excitement, accompanied by a familiar feeling.

"It feels like home here," Gonzalez said.

School opened up in January, but Saturday was the official celebration.