Saturday, June 02, 2001

Swifton School 'family' goes separate ways

Low enrollment brought children, teachers closer

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Teacher Tanya Cordes hugs Alexis Holmes, 9, on the final day for Swifton Primary School. Ms. Cordes taught Alexis in grades one through three.
(Glenn Hartong photos)
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        At Swifton Primary School, tiny students stood shoulder to shoulder Friday, fidgeting and shuffling their little feet, reciting their school creed for the last time:

        “Today I will learn. Today I will listen. Today I will achieve. I like who I am and look forward to who I will become. I know that my life is full of potential.... Today I will shine like the brightest star ...”

        They recite it in unison every school day. But Friday was unlike any other school day.

        The tears shimmering in teachers' eyes were not just end-of-the-school-year tears. While most Tristate schools are closing for the summer this week and over the next few weeks, Swifton's doors Friday were being padlocked for good.

        Cincinnati Public Schools is closing the tiny Bond Hill school and redistricting its kindergarten-through-third-grade students to Losantiville Elementary, Bond Hill Academy and Roselawn Condon School. Swifton's teachers will filter into schools such as Bond Hill, Vine Elementary and South Avondale Elementary.

        Though many of the children played basketball and skipped rope without a care in the school yard during the afternoon, the staff knew what Friday signified. Reflected in their long faces was an understanding that after 40-plus years and thousands of students, Swifton's green-tiled halls would soon fall silent.

        “I cried all the way to school,” said preschool teacher Amy Graff. “I was literally uncontrollably sobbing by the time I got there.”

        The primary-school structure is outdated, CPS officials say.

[photo] Principal Stacey Hill listens as students recite the Swifton school pledge during the last day of school on Friday.
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        All of CPS' elementary schools, except Swifton and Schiel Primary School for Arts Enrichment, have been converted to kindergarten-to-eighth grade buildings. Schiel will follow suit in a few years, merging with the School for Creative and Performing Arts and relocating next to Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine.

        “Anytime a school closes, it's difficult for parents, teachers and those who have attended in the past,” said CPS spokeswoman Jan Leslie.

        But operating too many schools is costly, she added. The district will keep the Swifton building for now, to use if necessary when the district's master plan for all its 75 schools is released in December.

        Swifton was built in 1959, for the hundreds of children from the then-mushrooming Bond Hill community.

        With only 14 classrooms, three kindergarten rooms, a multipurpose room and a kitchen, the school's capacity was 650. On its last day, Swifton's enrollment was slightly more than 230 students.

        That low enrollment contributed to a closeness between teachers and pupils.

        Principal Stacey Hill said she knows all the students by their first names. Daily hugs could hardly be counted.

        The school staff held annual barbecues or picnics at the home of volunteers David and Lula Wilks, who saw three generations of their family go through the school.

[photo] Principal Stacey Hill says goodbye to first-grader DaShay Stuckey, 7. DaShay's great-grandparents have been involved with Swifton Primary School for decades.
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        Mrs. Wilks, chairwoman of the parent-teacher group, took the closing hard. Her daughter Tracie Hill of Pleasant Ridge, now 31, started kindergarten there, and Mrs. Wilks' husband volunteered there daily, she said.

        The Wilkses' house is so close to school that when Tracie heard the school bell ring from her kitchen, she could hightail it across her back yard and be on time, her mother said.

        “I don't like this at all,” Mrs. Wilks said of the closing.

        Great-granddaughter DaShay Stuckey agreed.

        “I feel sad. I want to stay here,” said the 7-year-old, the last of the Wilkses' family to attend the school.

        Friday afternoon, as the last yellow buses pulled away, teacher Tanya Cordes hugged and comforted a crying student. Ms. Cordes, a second- and third-grade teacher, had started her career at Swifton eight years ago. The staff used to call her a "baby” teacher.

        Now, “I'm losing part of a family,” she said.



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