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Posted at 10:51 AM ET, 02/13/2012

Whitney Houston Elementary School pays tribute — and her former principal remembers her

The students and staff at New Jersey’ Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, paid tribute to the late singer today, reciting poems on the lawn, flying the flag at half mast and walking down the street to the house she lived in as a youth.

Houston died Saturday in Beverly Hills, Ca., of as yet undetermined causes.

The school in East Orange was named Franklin Elementary when Houston attended decades ago, but one thing remains the same: the principal, Henry W. Hamilton, who is in his 41st year there.
Messages are left for Whitney Houston at a makeshift memorial at The New Hope Baptist Church, where Houston sang in the choir, in Newark, N.J.. (ADAM HUNGER - REUTERS)

Hamilton said in an interview this morning that he remembers Whitney Houston well, and, while he knew she was talented, he was surprised at how far she went in the music industry.

“I remember her when she was 15 years old. She was a fine young lady,” he said. “She had the potential to be great and she became great. She had a good family that supported her well.... But I didn’t think she’d become the greatest singer in the world, to be honest with you. I thought her brother, was a better singer, Gary, and he was a basketball player too.”

Franklin was renamed to honor Houston on June 12, 1997, he said, when she had become a world renowned singer. She would return over
Whitney Houston's music was without-a-doubt influential, particularly for people who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s.
and over to the school to visit students and even to listen to some performances there, Hamilton said.

At the school today, Hamilton made sure there were counselors to speak with the students — there are about 500 youngsters from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade — to help them understand what happened and cope with the sudden loss of the school’s namesake.

Well wishers brought flowers and left them at the school, as well as the Hope Baptist Church in nearby Newark where Houston sang in the choir as a youth.

“We didn’t expect this,” Hamilton said from his office at the school, which has the motto: “A Unique School for Unique Students through Teamwork.”

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By  |  10:51 AM ET, 02/13/2012

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