Photo from stonewallgardens.org

Photo from stonewallgardens.org

Stonewall Gardens sent out a school-wide email last week to announce the retirement of the garden’s founder and long-time instructor Mark Painter.

“We will be sharing information shortly about how and when we will gather to celebrate his work, dedication and lasting impact on a generation of Stonewall Jackson students,” the email said. “In the meantime, please join us in wishing him all the best in his retirement.”

Stonewall Gardens is the hands-on science program at Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, which Painter first started in 1996. Eventually the garden grew into a 20,000 square foot outdoor learning laboratory, where each Stonewall Jackson student has an opportunity to tend crops, observe the ecosystem and conduct scientific experiments. Everything the children learn in the garden and its corresponding class is based on science curriculum.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the history of the program, for 15 years or so the Dallas Independent School District supported the garden classroom and paid Painter to operate it as a science lab for kindergarten through fifth-grade students at Stonewall Jackson Elementary in East Dallas, according to an article we wrote in 2010.

In 2007 the school district, in financial distress, enacted a large reduction in force, which led to the loss of many DISD programs and staff. Included in the “RIF” was the learning garden program. The district offered Painter a job in a classroom where he could replace a newer teacher, but he decided to walk away from his post of more than a decade. At the time he explained he wasn’t “much of an inside person.”

Stonewall parents led the charge to get Painter back, petitioning the school board, insisting that the garden curriculum leads to better test scores, school recognition and, thus, increased surrounding property values.

But DISD simply didn’t have the money, so parents launched the nonprofit organization Stonewall Gardens, which in just two months, from November 2007 to January 2008, raised $30,000. They used some of that to bring Painter back on board part time, and thanks to continued support from parents and the East Dallas community, the school was able to maintain the program.

In the email, Stonewall Gardens President Beth Wing insisted “there’s no one like Mr. Painter, but with the ongoing support of our faculty, our principal, our committed volunteers and our board, we’ll ensure that Stonewall students continue to enjoy high-quality instruction, hands-on learning and the many other benefits of our unique urban garden.”


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