Consolidation Celebration: Los Fresnos CISD marks golden anniversary

The Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District on Tuesday celebrated the 50th anniversary of its consolidation in a small gathering at Villarreal Elementary in Olmito, the school it absorbed on Sept. 1, 1970 to become LFCISD.

The celebration took place in the open air outside the school’s main entrance in keeping with social distancing guidelines because of the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone there, including some who were part of the school when it was called Olmito Elementary and was the only school in the Olmito Independent School District, agreed they can hardly wait to welcome back Villarreal’s young students.

Classes will start Sept. 8 in LFCISD schools, but students will study from home in a 100% distance learning format. LFCISD teachers this week are preparing for the start of school.

In 1970, voters in both the Los Fresnos and Olmito ISDs voted to consolidate the two districts, and Los Fresnos CISD was born on Sept. 1, 1970 — exactly 50 years ago Tuesday.

The gathering Tuesday morning included some of Villarreal Elementary’s early-day principals, as well as Janie Cortez, assistant to the school’s namesake principal Alfredo L. Villarreal when he served as the school’s leader from 1966-78. In those days she also served as receptionist/secretary, registrar, records clerk, bookkeeper, nurse aide, printing clerk, cafeteria helper, textbook and custodian helper and PE aide.

Some of those roles have been consolidated over the years. Cortez serves as secretary to the current Villarreal principal, Paul Leal. Cortez also attended the school as a child.

“ This is a wonderful day, the greatest day of my career here at Villarreal,” she said Tuesday, sharing that she loves to interact with the children, that she is a grandparent by now and adding that when her 50-year run at the school began she was “the only one in the office.” She has worked for each of the nine principals who have led Villarreal since consolidation.

Among others who attended Tuesday’s event was Wanda Ortiz, who brought her copy of the 1952 yearbook “The Elm Tree.” Olmo is Spanish for elm tree. Thus, a small elm tree is an olmito.

Also attending was Antoinette Connaughton, principal from 1995-2002, who has remained active in education, and Ada Amaro, principal from 2002-2007.

Los Fresnos Superintendent Gonzalo Salazar said Villarreal Elementary is deeply rooted in the community.

After the gathering, Salazar said the district has faced a period of constant change over the past six months.

He said he addressed the district’s staff via Zoom on Monday, telling them it was now time to pivot from operations to addressing the needs of the students.

“ There isn’t a challenge we can’t overcome,” he said he told them, referring to the district’s “Start Safe to Finish Strong” plan for reopening.