The Death of a School is Like a Death in the Family

As I begin my second year at my current school, I’m thinking a lot about my former school, a school that no longer exists. After 45 years of educating children in the community, the school closed at the end of last year. I taught there for four years and my son attended for five years. I left last year and we were moving my son to my new school this year, so the school’s closing did not have a direct impact on my family. But hearing of the school’s closure, it felt like someone close to me had just died. It felt like family.

Looking back, the school was really an extension of my family. It was a part of our everyday lives. It was my job. It was an educational home for my son. We went to wonderful musical and theatrical productions, Halloween festivals, field days, sock hops, dances. I even helped coach the soccer team. Most of the faculty and staff became my closest friends. The students I taught were like my own sons and daughters. I enjoyed watching them grow up and be successful.

When I left last year, the school was downsizing. Enrollment was down and the school was cutting teachers and staff. Wonderful people who didn’t deserve to lose their jobs. I was angry and bitter. Even though the logical side of me understood the economic reality of declining enrollment, the emotional side couldn’t understand why I suddenly had to now do the job of three people. But I was one of the lucky ones. Another position came open at a different school and I escaped what I considered a sinking ship.

Even though the school wasn’t the right place for me, it was the perfect place for my son. When he started at age three, he was a shy, introverted little guy who struggled with writing. But with time and some amazing teachers, he transformed into an outgoing leader who is now writing his own books. This is the power of a great school.

My son’s story is only one of hundreds just like it over the last four decades. Sadly, it’s also one of the last ones. But while many of us are sad, we also feel anger. And human nature makes us direct that anger somewhere. We blame the administration, the board of trustees, the teachers who left, the economy, the new charter schools. Egotistically, I’ve even blamed myself at times. “What if [insert name here] had stayed? What if that family had not left? What if they had paid us more money?” All useless thoughts and questions. The truth is never as simple as one factor.

What we can do is continue to remember and share the stories of our times together and cherish the wonderful kids whose lives we have touched. We can continue to keep our relationships with each other alive even though we are all in different places. We should dwell on the good times and the difference we made. Just like a beloved family member who has passed on, we should keep the school alive in our hearts: where it belongs.

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