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One-track mind: Young collector's passion leads to contract with Galveston Railroad Museum to restore antique search lights

Twelve-year-old Israel Jones has a passion for all things antique, mechanical and electrical. That passion has led him to sign a contract with the Galveston Railroad Museum to restore a collection of antique searchlights.

Israel visited the museum with his mom Gina, dad Dayton and a friend and was struck when they saw a pile of the searchlights and semaphores (another type of signal) lying unused.

The searchlights had been damaged when the museum was hit by Hurricane Rita and 10 feet of flood water.

“I saw them lying in the yard at the museum, and I wanted to restore them so they could be used,” Israel said.

A few months later, Dayton told Israel they could try and contact the museum for his birthday, and the contract was born.

“He’s a really impressive young man,” said Sam Christensen, curator for the Galveston Railroad Museum. “They told me about some of the projects they had worked on previously with similar signal equipment. Really, it was a shoe-in.”

Israel hopes to build a display for the museum so the viewers can see the searchlights in action and even switch them on and off.

Restoration and re-use of equipment is a core part of the museum’s mission, and sharing that re-use with visitors is important and compelling from an education standpoint, Christensen said.

“In some ways it was surprising (that someone so young was interested), but after I met him, I really wasn’t surprised at all,” Christensen said. “He’s very mature, very competent and knows more about signal equipment than I do.”

Israel is working on H2 and H5 searchlights. He hopes to contact Union Pacific in Houston to find some additional mechanisms to use in the repair process and hopefully come out with around five working searchlights.

“These were used to signal trains which speed they can go,” Israel said. “Green is go, red is stop and yellow is approach, which basically means stop at the next signal ahead.”

He demonstrated how the searchlights work with one bulb and three colors of lenses — green, red and either yellow or lunar white/blue.

“If you open the bulb assembly, you can see the three colored lenses,” Israel said as he demonstrated. “They move back and forth like that. Right now at default they’re red, so if the magnet in here that pulls them side-to-side fails, they immediately go to red.”

The automatic box signal would register when a train would pass. The vibrations would “knock it down,” and the signal would immediately go to red, Israel said.

Then the signal before it would go to yellow.

“There’s always one signal in between two trains,” he said.

The searchlights were used from 1921-1998. Before that, the semaphores were used and now LED colored bulbs are used.

“This is nonstop, all he talks about,” Gina said.

“He’ll be like, ‘This is what I’m going to think about today, Dad,’” Dayton said. “At school, that’s all he’s thinking about. He can’t wait until he gets home.”

Israel collected two signal books from Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific from the 1980s and has memorized much of both.

Israel also will be putting together a telegraph pole for the museum because that is what would have powered the searchlights back in the day.

“I’m hoping that (museum visitors) will at least get to see a good example of searchlights,” Israel said. “I was kind of hoping it might add another cool thing to the museum.”

The cheerleaders take to John Outlaw Memorial Field at Abe Martin Stadium with the Lufkin Panthers flags at the start of Lufkin’s home opener against the Magnolia Bulldogs Friday night. The Bulldogs escaped with a 26-24 win. For complete coverage of our area games, see Sports, 1B.

Hudson ISD discontinues online learning

Hudson ISD has decided to cancel online learning and have students return to face-to-face instruction after data showed students and staff were struggling.

“After extensive review of student progress, we have determined that remote instruction is not feasible for most of our remote learners,” superintendent Donny Webb wrote in a letter to parents and staff. “Likewise, the added burden of a dual system is not sustainable for our staff. While many of our students have recently chosen to return to the campus, 11% of our student enrollment have chosen to remain in the remote system. Only half of these remote students are being successful. We simply cannot afford the risk of academic failure, where over 100 students are likely to be retained for the school year or lose essential credits for graduation.”

Remote instruction was not a requirement by the Texas Education Agency or the state during the return to class after the pandemic. Rather, the TEA put together options for school districts to offer.

Hudson’s decision comes after Huntington ISD and Zavalla ISD made the switch at the beginning of October. Like Pineywoods Community Academy, Hudson had previously merely encouraged parents to bring their children back from virtual learning if they were struggling, rather than requiring it.

“We have supported parent-choice as required if both systems of learning are being offered,” Webb wrote. “We are not allowed to simply require certain students to attend on-campus instruction. We cannot pick and choose who can opt for remote learning. If we offer remote learning, any student may choose that format regardless of their success rate. We have urged parents to seriously consider the academic risks versus the health risks of our students.”

This decision is not isolated to East Texas schools. Across the state, school districts are ending distance learning because of poor engagement from students.

“Our first five weeks of school, 2% of our of on-campus learners were failing four or more on-campus classes,” Navasota ISD superintendent Stu Musick said in a KBTX Navasota article. “But we had 25% of our at-home remote learners that were failing four or more classes, and that’s significant.”

Administrators say they have a responsibility to instruct students to the best of their ability, and that is in the classroom. A national survey by ClassTag of more than 1,200 kindergarten through 12th grade teachers in March found that most teachers believed they were not prepared to facilitate remote learning.

Districts are now required by the TEA to provide 14 days notice to parents of decisions like this, so the last day of optional remote instruction will be Oct. 30.

“It is Hudson ISD’s belief that face-to-face instruction is far superior to that of remote learning,” he wrote. “On-campus instruction remains the most appropriate method for academic success, social and emotional growth, and what we believe to be in the best interest of students.”

Failure to return to campus without evidence of the parent’s choice will result in immediate truancy action, Webb wrote. He provided several options to parents who are still not comfortable with their child returning to campus:

■ Request a transfer to another Texas school district with remote learning.

■ Withdraw the student to participate in a homeschool environment.

■ Enrollment in the Texas Virtual School Network.

The district will, however, continue to provide educational opportunities to students who are required to quarantine or self-isolate from COVID-19 exposure or infection.

“Please contact your child’s campus office concerning his/her return to campus. Each campus will be able to answer questions regarding this transition, scheduling, protocols, and other requirements,” Webb wrote. “Hudson ISD is committed to the success of all students. We look forward to the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.”

Museum of East Texas names new executive director

The Museum of East Texas has named John Handley its new executive director.

The appointment comes after the death of former executive director J.P. McDonald. Board president Aruna Bachireddy said the museum entertained and educated countless numbers of families and children in the region under McDonald’s leadership through exhibitions, lectures and performances.

Bachireddy also said they were pleased to welcome Handley as the new executive director.

“He brings incredible energy, creativity and dedication to the museum along with a vast knowledge base and experience with regional and American history and art,” she said. “As the board of the Museum of East Texas, we have full confidence that he will not only advance and fulfill the mission of Museum of East Texas but also take it to new heights, benefiting the greater East Texas community.”

Handley comes to the MET after serving eight years to the day as the director of the Cole Art Center and galleries at Stephen F. Austin State University.

He has been spending his time meeting with staff and patrons and artists, getting to know everyone. He said he hopes to accomplish at the MET what he accomplished at Cole Art Center and more.

“I want to put East Texas on the map as a cultural center of contemporary and historic art,” Handley said.

He has plans to bring more visibility to the museum and emphasize the history aspect of its charter.

“We have an amazing collection that nobody knows about,” Handley said. “We’ve got over 100,000 historic photos in storage, so one of the things I’m going to be working on over the next few months is bringing some things out of storage and highlighting that we really do have a nice collection of art, and hopefully I will be able to build that collection even more.”

Handley grew up in a rural community outside of Bellingham, Washington, where an Arts across Curriculum program helped cultivate a love for the arts in him from a young age.

“In the third grade, we had a kiln in the classroom and we regularly made ceramics,” he said. “By seventh grade, my classmates and teachers and I built a raku kiln from mud and bricks — went to the riverbanks and dug clay, made our own pots and fired them. By the time I finished high school, I had done silk screening, batik oil painting, ceramics, a little bit of theater and choir.”

That passion for the arts and history led him to join with a group of friends in starting an antique store called Aladdin’s Lamp Antique Mall that ran for several years through his 20s.

He eventually pursued a bachelor’s degree in art and art history and was accepted to the John F. Kennedy University in San Francisco for a graduate degree in museum studies.

Following that, he landed a position at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life where he took an exhibition of Judaica to Berlin and met many museum minds from institutions like the Louvre.

Over the years, he pursued freelance work at various museums like the Museum of Vision, where he helped create an exhibit on science education called Animal Eyes, which has since been purchased by the San Diego Zoo.

Handley eventually felt compelled to return to school and earned his second master’s degree, this time in theology and philosophy, and was accepted into the doctoral program at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley.

He received his doctoral degree in art and region, focusing on American, and describes the experience as amazing. During the program, he was able to work with Peter Selz and Jane Dillenberger, with whom he co-authored a book titled “The Religious Art of Pablo Picasso” published in 2014 by the University of California Press.

After 24 years in the Bay Area, he took the position with SFASU and Cole Art Center.

“I crammed everything I could possibly cram into a 16-foot truck, put my car on a trailer, my cat in the carrier and my best friend and I drove three days on the road, which we said we’d never do again,” Handley said with a laugh.

Through his work at the university, he fell in love with East Texas and its people and art. He brought many different exhibits to the center and featured local and regional artists often.

One of his projects included an exhibition of work by living members of the Caddo Tribe that used to inhabit land in and around Alto.

After the university cut $20 million of funding from the College of Fine Arts and the Cole Art Center staff were laid off, Handley applied for a position in a similar institution in Houston.

“It was really a good match, but my heart was so not into it, and I realized then that, oh my gosh, I really like living in East Texas,” Handley said.

A week later, the MET board reached out to him and asked if he would be interested in interviewing.

“I have always believed in the importance of the arts,” he said. “I would never have made it through high school if it hadn’t been for the arts. I think I’ve never known of my life without being immersed in the arts, without being surrounded by artists, being surrounded by thinkers of art and makers of art and the quality of life it brings to people.

“Institutions like this raise the quality of life and the quality of people. People who are exposed to the arts on a regular basis are more empathetic, less likely to be racist. Art is the most unique function of a human being.”