LAURINBURG — Bidding fond farewells to two school buildings on Sunday, Scotland County Schools staff and students looked ahead to a transition they’re doing their best to embrace.
Last week, the Scotland County Board of Education, citing a need to save money and reduce inefficiency in schools that are too large for the number of children attending, voted to close Washington Park and Pate-Gardner elementary schools effective at the close of the 2014-2015 school year.
On Sunday, both schools invited current and former students and staff, along with members of the Washington Park and Gibson communities, to reminisce about their experiences at those schools, both of which were constructed in the early 1950s.
“While I understand that everyone doesn’t agree, and even doesn’t understand the need to make the changes that we’re making, my hope is that we will all come together after this day and make next year the best year that our children have had since they’ve been in school,” Superintendent Ron Hargrave told the group of more than 60 gathered at Washington Park, and later reiterated at Pate-Gardner.
Cynthia Johnson, a teacher and former student at Washington Park, chronicled the evolution of the school — from the 18,592 square foot original building through the addition of a lobby in 1955 and of a fourth and fifth grade hallway and media center in 1962. As a place where students spend most of their waking hours, the school is inseparable from memories of more distant events.
“That I recall because it was in 1963 that President Kennedy was assassinated, and it’s things like that I think about, because I remember being in the classroom,” Johnson said. “It came over the intercom to say that he had been assassinated and I just remember the sadness throughout the entire school that day and for many days to come.”
Pointing out that Washington Park’s people are no stranger to transitions, Johnson pointed out some of the benefits of the move to Sycamore Lane, and also charged the community with preserving and finding a new purpose for the Washington Park building.
“The bottom line is, it’s been a wonderful experience, I am somewhat saddened, but I want you to know to that I’m kind of enthusiastic about this new space,” she said. “Maybe we won’t have technology problems, we’re going to have these wider hallways. I like the idea of a straight line, we know kids are going to follow the line in that straight line, right?”
Jason Eury, who has taught at Washington Park for seven years, holds out optimism for the move to a larger school.
“I think they’re just looking out for the best interests of everybody, even though it’s hard to see right now,” he said. “I think that even though it’s difficult for the adults to experience the changes, I think the students will welcome it with open arms.”
Though emotional at saying a final goodbye to Washington Park, former student Carrie Dean, now a high school senior, also looked on the bright side.
“I think it’s sad to see a school close, but I think it’s a good thing because there’s going to be more resources available at Sycamore: there’s a gym there, there’s a bigger library, there’s a lot more space,” she said. “I still have my memories, and for the kids nothing is really going to change for them. They still have an elementary school to go to, they still have all their teachers, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”
A slightly smaller group gathered two hours later at Pate-Gardner where Rosalind McMillan, who has taught there for 37 years, professed her gratitude to the teachers, custodians, teacher assistants, cafeteria staff, and principals for their dedication to the school.
Gibson residents Christy and Daniel Baxley have had children at Pate-Gardner for nine consecutive years and were looking forward to another six with their son, who will enter kindergarten in the fall.
“I just wanted one more year just for him, so we could all say we all came here,” said Daniel Baxley.
Pate-Gardner students will also head to Sycamore Lane in the fall, and Christy Baxley said that she will miss the close-knit atmosphere at Pate-Gardner.
“The kids learn so much and the teachers take that one-on-one time with them,” she said. “They all treat you like family, they know your first name as soon as you walk in the door.
“I shed some tears, but we’ll get through it.”
Lynne Hill, who has worked at Pate-Gardner for 21 years as a teacher and curriculum facilitator, is no stranger to change herself. Though a move to Laurinburg may be greater than any change within the school’s walls, Hill encouraged her fellow teachers and the Pate-Gardner community not to despair at the loss of their school.
“If change is all around us, what is it that we fear? It’s the unknown. We’re afraid of losing what has become comfortable,” she concluded.
“We can choose to stand in that doorway and enter it with awe and excitement, or we can retreat in fear. As for me, I choose to capture all my fondest memories of this school and stuff them into my heart and then plunge headfirst into this new adventure.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.