Saturday, June 7, 2003

Visalia school marks close with graduation

School shuts up shop after 74 years

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

Katie Walling led the 12-minute procession into the gymnasium Friday in front of nearly 200 parents and teachers with her arm over her eyes, tears running down her cheeks.

Like many of her teachers, schoolmates and their families who also were crying, she knew the end had finally come.

[IMAGE] Kindergartener John Allen Elmore graduated from Visalia Elementary Friday.
(Dick Swaim photo)
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With "Pomp and Circumstance" playing and cameras flashing, the 80 boys and 58 girls of Visalia Elementary School were treated to an extravagant graduation ceremony normally reserved for high school seniors.

That's because they would be the last to ever walk the halls of the 74-year-old school, which will not reopen this fall.

"This is bittersweet," said Principal Darlene Schaber, her eyes red and moist. "It's always sad when a school in a community like this closes."

The small, red-brick school is in rural southern Kenton County, surrounded by thick groves of trees and acres of farmland. It's the smallest school of 12 in the district.

Parents fought to keep the school open, but the Kenton County School Board voted unanimously in February to close it to save about $400,000 at a time when districts across the state are making deep budget cuts.

While the fifth-graders will go on to middle school next year, the kindergarten-fourth-grade classes will be split up among three neighboring elementary schools - 57 percent will attend Ryland Heights, 28 percent will go to Piner and 15 percent will attend White's Tower.

After the children filed into the gym, Schaber gave a brief speech, before receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.

The children were then presented with diplomas and school pictures. Each child's name was announced, along with the school he or she will attend next year.

School volunteers were recognized for their work, followed by a presentation of gifts and flowers to Schaber by student representatives from each class.

The children ended the ceremony with a rousing rendition of a song called "Proud," which lifted the spirits of the wall-to-wall crowd - but only briefly.

"I think it's horrible that they're closing it. These people here do so much for these kids," said Jane Moore whose daughter is fourth-grader Cherie Fullwood.

Moore's daughter, fourth-grader Cherie Fullwood, last year attended Burlington Elementary School, where she had Cs and Ds on her report card and didn't want to go to school.

Moore said since she moved Cherie into Visalia this year, she has become a straight-A student who refuses to stay home when she's not feeling well.

"She's come a long way from hating school to loving it," said Moore. "I give all the credit to the teachers and administrators here."

Kent Weaver has two children who will transfer to Piner next year.

"I know the reason and logic behind the decision to close it, but sometimes finances are not the only thing you go by," he said. "My daughter is in first grade and knows cursive already. At Visalia, you get what you pay for."

Schaber thinks time will heal the wounds.

"I think as the children start school next year and the parents see the kids are happy, the healing will begin," she said.

Schaber added that the three schools have been proactive in welcoming the students, holding open houses for the parents and having their students send letters to the Visalia students.

Schaber has been offered an administrative job in the district. The 14 teachers and guidance counselors at Visalia have also been offered jobs.

"I'm all right. I just keep thinking of Summit View," said Melissa Currin, a kindergarten teacher at Visalia who will teach first grade at the Independence school next year. "I keep looking for a silver lining."

Some students were still in tears after the ceremony, while others seemed ready to move on.

"I'll miss gym and my teachers," said 6-year-old Louie Phelps, who will attend second grade at Ryland Heights next year. "But my girlfriend and some of my friends are at Ryland."


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