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Foster Elementary 50th anniversary - former principals
Posted in , on March 6, 2024

Foster Elementary opened in 1973

In the early 1970s, big changes were happening in Arlington. Residents were thrilled to see the opening of the old, popular Forum 303 Mall. The Texas Rangers had just brought major league baseball to the city from Washington D.C. And flying in and out of the area became easier with the building of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

But for some people, nothing was more impactful than when Arlington ISD opened the doors of Foster Elementary School – located on the city’s southwest side – in 1973. This was evident last week as the school celebrated its 50th anniversary, which brought droves of former students, teachers and principals to the campus where they shared many fond memories.

Despite the rain, many flocked to the school and packed its small cafeteria. There, former Foster Falcons reminisced about their time at Foster and recognized past teachers and principals for their service.

The five-decade-old institution was named in honor of Tom Foster and his sister Maude Foster. A local businessman, Tom served on the Arlington ISD school board for 13 years before retiring in 1973. Maude was a teacher in Arlington for more than 40 years.

Tom’s daughter, Becca Foster-Johnson, who along with her husband made the trip from Austin to attend the event, couldn’t have been happier.

“It was wonderful. It was really great,” Foster-Johnson said, admitting she hadn’t been fully aware of the school’s impact on the community. “I didn’t know it until tonight.”

 A haven to allFoster Elementary 50th anniversary

On hand for the festivities were new Arlington ISD superintendent Dr. Matt Smith, school board vice president Justin Chapa, and board members Dr. Aaron Reich, David Wilbanks and Leanne Haynes. While it is customary to see board members attend such special school celebrations, they were also there to support a close colleague. Sarah McMurrough, current secretary for the school board and board member since 2021, was one of the guest speakers because of the impact that Foster made on her childhood.

McMurrough shared how in 1996, her mother – a newly single mom at the time – moved her and her brother from Florida into the school’s neighborhood. The staff and the school’s wide variety of activities eased McMurrough’s worries during her only year – the sixth grade – at Foster.  

“When we registered, I was a little bit disheartened and nervous,” McMurrough said, referring to the fact that sixth grade was in an elementary building versus a junior high setting.

McMurrough said it ended up being “the best year yet.” She eventually became an education major in college and returned to Foster in 2007 to complete her student teaching there.

“I handpicked this school because I love it so much,” said McMurrough, who taught fourth grade in Arlington ISD for 12 years – including at Hale Elementary, where she was honored “Teacher of the Year.”

McMurrough was excited to reunite with her old schoolmates, brothers Sam and Sharif Sayed, the event’s keynote speakers. Today, Sam Sayed holds a master’s degree in biomedical sciences and professional studies from Drexel University in Pennsylvania and is a medical student at the Burnell School of Medicine at Texas Christian University. He will soon become an emergency medicine physician for the Mayo Clinic.

Back in the 1990s, however, Sayed admitted that he spent a lot of time in the principal’s office due to poor behavior. Some of his struggles were due to the passing of their mom when he was young.Foster Elementary 50th anniversary

“While the loss of a mother’s love and guidance can never be replaced, Foster Elementary was always there to fill our hearts with joy that a child deserves to have,” he said.

Sam largely attributed his turnaround to longtime former P.E. teacher Arlious Jackson, who was also in attendance. Jackson gave him honest, tough love while serving as his baseball coach. He coached the entire Sayed clan – a family of seven – in various activities, including bowling and chess.

Jackson was the “most influential educator that I ever had,” Sam said.

Sharif Sayed echoed his brother’s sentiments about Foster, particularly about Jackson. He also spent years getting in trouble at Foster yet went on to study at the University of Texas at Arlington. Sharif co-founded Dayna’s Footprints, a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing educational inequities and social injustices. With 13 years of experience as a corporate executive, he currently owns a consulting firm and e-commerce brand.

 “Thank you for believing in two snotty-nosed kids that perhaps didn’t believe in themselves as much as you guys did,” Sam said. 

A labor of love

During the presentation, the event’s committee members acknowledged all of the school’s past principals: James Starrett, Barbara Syptak, Charleen Brinkley, Richard Longgrear, Arthur Benton, Jeanne Paull, Dr. Josh Garcia and Jacquelyn McClendon.

Longgrear appreciated his opportunity to lead Foster while McMurrough and the Sayed brothers attended the school. He largely credits his staff at that time for the success he obtained during what was his first principal job.

“There were so many exceptional people, from the teachers to the secretary to the counselors to the coaches. It was a great learning experience,” Longgrear said. “To see so many people show up tonight, it was great.”

Dawn Mitchell, who taught many students, including Shariff Sayed, during her 30-year tenure at Foster, was thrilled to serve on the event’s committee. The current counselor called it a “family reunion,” relishing the fact that former staff members – even substitute teachers, she said – returned for the celebration.

Foster Elementary 50th anniversary

Attendees were encouraged to walk around the building to view new renovations and the new playgrounds as well as a 70s-themed hallway display of student work projects featuring glow-in-the-dark disco balls, lava lamps and roller skates. Inside the library, attendees were treated to light refreshments and numerous scrapbooks and photo albums where they looked for familiar faces. Framed school spirit T-shirts from years gone by were also displayed.

Former Foster student, 16-year-old Marco Woodard, even kept the crowd grooving while serving as the DJ. He said staff members always inspired him to be successful.

“If you’re not on the right track, they’ll get you on the right track,” he said.  

Looking to the future

Foster’s choir also took guests back in time by singing the school song, composed by Peggy Hardagree, many years ago. Afterward, the choir joined the school’s orchestra in premiering a new song composed by current music teacher Andy Diaz. The students also revealed Foster’s sleek new logo onstage.

Jacquelyn Burden, Foster’s principal for the past eight years, is excited about the future of the school. A former administrator for Dallas ISD, Burden believed she found a jewel in Foster after moving to Arlington and finding a home not far from the school.Foster Elementary 50th anniversary

“There is not another group of educators that have a heart for teaching and for children like this collaborative group of people,” Burden said. “I’ve been on many campuses. But this culture is unmatched. They care for each other, the students and their families.”

Twenty-five years ago, Christopher Wilson began his teaching career as an adjunct music professor at TCU and as an elementary music instructor in Austin ISD. After those brief stints, he began teaching fourth grade at Foster and hasn’t looked back.

“I love the students, their families, my co-workers and my mentors and administrators,” he said. “Never once have I even considered leaving Foster – it’s my second home!”

Wilson was overwhelmed by reuniting with a number of his former co-workers and former students.

“It was a blast!” Wilson said. “The school had never turned 50 before! It far exceeded my expectations and was surprisingly emotional for me.”