Home News Local News Goodbyes for a 'good thing'
Goodbyes for a 'good thing'
By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
was the word used over and over Thursday morning to mark the last day of classes at Baker School District's sixth-grade-only Churchill Elementary School.
As usual, the Churchill School staff said goodbye to the students they have come to know over a year's time. And for the last time, they also prepared to say goodbye to their classrooms and their Churchill colleagues.
The school will be closed and the staff will be scattered throughout the district when classes resume in September. The closure was announced this spring as the Baker School District worked to trim $1.6 million from its budget because of a state funding shortfall and declining enrollment.
Teacher Rick Rembold sees the closure of the building as the end of an era. He was one of several who saw his plans become reality as he helped design the school and its programs 14 years ago.
"Every teacher has a dream of setting up a school just the way they want it," he said. "We got to do that. It's been a great 14 years.
"But, I wouldn't want to do it again," he added quickly, noting the effort and responsibility of developing the school, which is one of a kind in Oregon.
Rembold taught at Churchill for his first five years in the Baker School District when it housed Grades 1-6. He spent a year at Brooklyn Elementary before returning to Churchill.
"I know this school pretty well. They can't hide anywhere," he said.
Rembold is looking forward to rejoining the Brooklyn staff to teach sixth-graders next year when the neighborhood school will house students in kindergarten through Grade 6.
"I even got my old room back," he said.
Anita Goodyear is one teacher who's been at the school even longer than Rembold. She attended Churchill Elementary as a child when it housed Grades 1-5. In those years, sixth-graders were all housed on the third floor of the Central Building at Baker Middle School, she said.
Goodyear will serve the district's elementary schools as a traveling Title I teacher next year, specializing in math.
She started her teaching career at Churchill in 1970 and taught for eight years before taking a break to stay home with her two daughters. She returned to the district and spent one year at the Baker Middle School before coming home to Churchill about 10 years ago.
The word sad comes to Goodyear's mind when she considers the school's closure.
"It's more than sad," she added thoughtfully. "It's a good thing that we're gonna really miss.
"If I had my way, this wouldn't be happening," she continued. "I will miss the teachers. We've had excellent teamwork here."
The students benefitted because teachers were able to share ideas and learn from each other to improve their programs, she said. And the school provided a nurturing environment for sixth-graders, while preparing them for the transition from their neighborhood elementary schools to the Baker Middle School.
Special programs developed at the school over the years have included the Outdoor School, a sixth-grade computer lab, the annual school-wide art show, the advanced math and block program for talented-and-gifted students and staff development opportunities for teachers.
Mark Bogart, who has served as the school's principal for the past 10 years, has been reassigned as principal of North Baker Elementary for next year.
Bogart kept his comments to a minimum Thursday during the last of the school's awards assemblies for the year. He wished the students good luck next year and closed the assembly after each staff member was presented a photo of the school for their scrapbooks.
"There's only so much you need to say and then it's time to move on," Bogart said as he joined his staff and students for a picnic on the playground afterward.
Several of the staff members' eyes sparkled as they struggled to keep tears below the surface during their last day with students.
"It's very disheartening," Tracy Warner said of the school's closure as she walked the halls Thursday. "It brings tears to my eyes."
Warner has been a teaching assistant at the school for the past four years. She will move to the Baker Middle School next year.
Teacher Kathi Shaw also used the word sad as she described her feelings on her last day with students.
"I think this has been such a great school for the kids," she said. "You watch and see so much growth in kids from fall to spring."
Shaw, who also has been at the school since it was reorganized 14 years ago, will teach multi-levels at Keating School next year. Her classes probably will include students in Grades 1-3 and one fifth-grader because there are no kindergartners or fourth-graders expected at the school next year, she said.
Preparing for the unexpected doesn't fluster Shaw, however.
"I'm not sure in the fall we ever really knew what we were getting," she said. "We knew they were sixth-graders, but what does that mean?"
Sam Sullivan, who served as Churchill's child development specialist and physical education specialist, will transfer to Brooklyn School as a child development specialist. She taught first grade at Brooklyn for a year and second grade there for four years before moving to Churchill where she's been for seven years.
"I'm excited and heartbroken all at the same time," she said of the change.
Sullivan said she will especially miss working with Shaw who is known for her sense of humor.
"I start my day with belly laughter and end my day the same way," thanks to Shaw, she said.
"That was one of the special things about the staff," said Shaw. "That laughter that was always going on made it really special."
The staff will continue packing Friday and Monday with the help of employees from throughout the district, Boy Scouts and other volunteers, Bogart said.
A party, which will include all former employees of the school since it reopened for sixth-graders only, is scheduled Tuesday. That will be a time for a more intimate farewell for the staff, he added.
Just two Churchill employees were laid off when the district was forced to reduce staff to trim expenses. They were Judy Rama, who has taught at Churchill School for the past three years, and Bea Brooks, who has worked as a cook at the school for the past year.
All others are being transferred.
Cindy Johansen, secretary, and Connie Robinson, teaching assistant, will move to North Baker.
LaDonna Uttenreuther will serve as cook manager at Baker High School; Ramona Helgerson, teaching assistant, Baker Middle School; Dave Hatfield, teaching assistant, Baker High School; and Mike Watson, head custodian, at North Baker.
Jan Bonn spent just one year at Churchill teaching music there and at Haines School. She'll return to the third-grade classroom she left at North Baker School in the fall.
Tom Busey and Eth Carr will remain sixth-grade teachers, both at South Baker Elementary. Jean Justus will join Jorja Culley as the sixth-grade teachers at North Baker School. Ann Rowan will move to North Baker as a special education teacher.