Thursday, March 6, 2014

Closed buildings; but not closed hearts

Ever since The Columbus Dispatch ran a series of articles on the proposed closings of schools due to low enrollment I have been thinking about the impact of this decision.

Odd, because I am not directly impacted in any way.  I do not work in the Columbus schools nor do I have any children or relatives affected.

But as a person who has spent the greater part of her life in schools, K-12 myself, college at The Ohio State University, graduate school, 14 years as a teacher, and almost 15 years as an administrator (wow-- that really is a lot of time in school!), I have been truly touched by the photos and videos of students standing in front of the Columbus Board of Education advocating for their school not to close.

The impact of these decisions is vast.  Please understand that this blog post is apolitical.  I have, as my Dad used to say, "no dog in this fight."

As an experienced administrator, and one that has been a part of difficult personnel decisions, I can't imagine the many hours of strife and anxiety for those administrators, educators and school board members involved in these arduous decisions.  Certainly, all of them are acting in good faith with fiscal responsibility, which probably makes it even harder.

Why? Because these individuals know that closing a school of any level, elementary, middle or high school, has an enormous impact on a community.

If it didn't, wonderful young people, their parents, and alumni wouldn't show up at school board meetings holding up signs, dressed in school sweatshirts and letter jackets, shouting how much they love their high school.

As someone who has spent most of their life as a high school educator, this has moved me deeply.  I walk our halls, a building teeming with gold and forest green signs, class graduation banners with class slogans (Class of 2006-- We did it first; we did it best), and rows of athletic championship team photos.

There's the first staff composite photo from 2004-05, and the shovel from our Groundbreaking.  There's our perfect ACT and National Merit Semi-Finalists.  How about our first class mascot and our first Bagpiper.

And what about the present-- classrooms filled with teachers and students learning from each other, halls filled with giggling students, half texting and half lingering to hang out with friends.  What about lunchtime-- there is no other time when a school is so filled with life.  Voices loud and shrieking. Boys trying to shoot milk cartons into the trash cans.  Texting, laughing, giggling friends. Talking about who is going to the football game, the Prom, the Twitter and Instagram photos, teachers, homework, marching band.

And yet I cannot help but think about those administrators, teachers, students, parents, and alumni who are learning that only a few short months remain until their school closes.  For good.

What happens to all of those artifacts of generations of graduates?  What happens to all of those honor student photos?  The championship basketball? The student ceramics? The state championship banner?  The school crest? The perfect ACT photo? The cafeteria tables once filled with laughter? The flags from the classrooms? The teacher lunches in the refrigerators?  The vending machines?

Today I was able to attend one of our sister school events.  I was there for a meeting and was lucky enough to drop in on one of the school's most significant yearly events: Cafe Read-a-latte.  A celebration of diversity in word, music, food, and print.

Scioto High School was ALIVE.  Students waited in droves at the cafeteria doors watching the clock click to 3 PM so that they could enter.  They even paid $2 to attend.  Imagine that.  Hundreds of high schoolers lined up to pay to come to an after-school celebration of internationalism and acceptance.

As I walked around I couldn't help but think of Brookhaven High School closing.  Look at Scioto High School today-- the students love it and each other, as have students from 1995.  Just as the Brookhaven students have loved their school.

I feel the same way about my school.  I love being a high school principal and I love Dublin Jerome.  Every day.  I love the students scurrying in the mornings holding Tim Horton's cups of coffee and I love every sign, photo and banner we have hung.  Why?  Because of the lives they represent. The students. The teachers. The coaches. The fun. The memories we are creating.  The lives we are impacting. Schools are people, not buildings.

I can't imagine our building closing. Ever. I only hope that schools facing this challenge know that although doors may close, furniture will be moved, banners will taken down, and  photographs will be boxed, the memories and the lives changed will live on in the students, their teachers, their parents, and their alumni. Live on in their hearts.

And that can't be closed. Ever.


  1. Good points - how sad to have to close a school. I like how you included the 'heart' part of it. Isn't that what so much is about in so many schools? Great post.

  2. You have really thought this through. Where do the people go? What happens to everyone? Why is enrollment down? So sad.

  3. Your post makes me so, so, so sad. I was a teacher at an elementary school that was closing. It was heartbreaking for all involved. I can't even imagine what it would be like with high school kids. I wonder how many actually will seek out other schools and how many will just give up…


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