Volunteers polish ESA for new school year
Nearing its 12th anniversary, the Eastside Academy will soon have a new facelift thanks to a native Clintonite who has returned to her hometown and is now doing mostly volunteer work.
Susanna Williams retired from the Houston Public Schools in 2016 and came back home that October. After one year of substituting as a teacher in the public schools here, she switched to ESA where her pay is “nothing but love.”
That’s okay with her, though. She just enjoys the satisfaction of working with ESA founder and executive director Lillian Collins and several other people in the community to help see that children here get the same educational opportunities as their big-city counterparts.
Unlike Mrs. Collins, though, who’s a third-grade teacher at Southwest Elementary School in addition to spending two hours at Eastside four days a week, most of Susanna’s work is done out of public sight.
“I try to do behind-the-scenes support for Lillian,” she said. “She wants to be with the children. What I do makes it easier for her, and I enjoy myself in the process.”
The facelift that’s about to be completed at the 4,400-square-foot ESA building was noted at this week’s Clinton City Council meeting. At the end of a 1-hour-and-25-minute session, the council’s longest in some time, City Manager Mark Skiles introduced Ms. Williams and said she had come to him asking only for permission and materials to do the job.
“Eastside Academy has become my baby,” she told the crowd. “The building has been up for 12 years, and in December I noted that it needed a paint job. It got a paint job.”
Almost. Susanna said Wednesday the job is about 90 percent complete and she plans on getting it finished during this year’s Christmas break.
“We took all the posters off the walls, cleaned and painted four classrooms, the computer lab, the main hallway, and the boys and girls restrooms,” she said.
Besides herself, “we” are Toy Washington, another former Clintonite who’s come back home but from much further away than she was, as he’s a retired policeman from the state of Washington; Trakel Pinkston, who went to school here in the second and third grades and now attends one of the Putnam City high schools in Oklahoma City; and Zavian Mann, who’ll be a third-grader this fall in Clinton and will take part in ESA’s after-school tutoring program.
Susanna said it took them the last week of July, working Monday through Friday, to get done what’s been accomplished so far.
“No work had been done on the inside since it was built,” she said. “The reason I took on this task – I so admire having this facility in the community.”
Ms. Williams said she was overjoyed with the reception she got when she went to Skiles and told him what she would like to do.
“There was no hesitancy about getting us the supplies,” she said.
For the record, 21 gallons of paint were provided, of which about three gallons remain to finish the job. Work left to do is essentially trimming the doors and painting the kitchen.
Skiles was equally pleased with her request. “It’s nice to have people come to me to help and are willing to put skin in the game,” he told spectators at the council meeting.
Born and raised in Clinton, Susanna attended the old Excelsior School her first seven years, then transferred to the Clinton schools and earned her high school diploma in 1973.
She obtained her Bachelor of Science degree from Southwestern Oklahoma State University in 1978 and her Master of Education from OSU in 1986. Before arriving in Houston, she taught at Ponca City in Oklahoma and at Austin, Texas, also picking up additional credits herself at the University of Texas, Southwest Texas State University, the University of Houston, and Texas Southern University.
Asked what brought her back to Clinton, she said it was Eastside Academy.
“I had nieces and nephews here,” she said. “I want to help kids in this community succeed and excel.”
ESA is of course an after-school tutoring program. Although it didn’t have a name then, it was started in 2003 in the lodge hall of Masonic Lodge No. 21. Its present quarters built by the City of Clinton were dedicated May 18, 2007.
Tutoring is offered from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. When students arrive, Ms. Williams said they sign in with Roy Bell, then go to the computer lab and wait for their teacher to arrive. When that happens, they go to their classes.
While waiting, she said they’re doing either homework or studying books available at the academy.
“The children are doing academic work Monday through Thursday,” she said. “They pretty much work till 4:30, then they get a snack.” That may be a bologna sandwich or hot dog, plus chips and a drink. The meat is donated by Bar-S Foods and the other items by other vendors.
“Donations are welcome,” said Susanna. Anyone wishing to help may call her at 281-536-1854.
Hot dinners are served on Thursdays. Churches are being asked to help with them.
Susanna said she tries to greet the children at the end of the sidewalk when they arrive for their tutoring session. She has one child herself, a son who lives in Clinton.