Farewell, Academy Heights
Saying Goodbye to Academy Heights
Tears and laughs were a common sight as parents, teachers and students gathered June 9 to say goodbye to Academy Heights Elementary School, which closed to students June 10 after being in operation for 77 years. A Celebration of Academy Heights was held in the school gymnasium, followed by an afternoon of fun activities put on by parents, giving teachers time to pack up their classrooms for the end of the year.
Months after a ConnectEd voice mail message informed parents that budget cuts would close Academy Heights Elementary School, students, teachers and parents finally said their goodbyes last week.
Students headed out of the doors of the 77-year-old facility for the last time as the school dismissed for summer vacation Friday.
The closing of Academy Heights is one of many cost-saving measures being implemented by the Moore County school system to help absorb an $8.2 million funding shortfall from the state.
On Thursday, with industrial fans blowing in the school’s stuffy, weathered gym, members of the Academy Heights community gathered to celebrate the year-round elementary school’s success as one of the county’s top-performing schools and its legacy as the bloodline of Taylortown.
Amid both tears and smiles, parents and students said “thank you” to the various individuals who worked to make Academy Heights a success and fought to keep the school open in its final months.
“It’s going to be a celebration,” principal Dale Buie said. “I’m going to keep that in my mind today. It’s going to be all smiles as much as we can.”
Academy Heights PTA president Carol Ray reflected on her own feelings about the events leading up to the closure as she addressed the audience.
“If I had to sum up what Academy Heights means to me right now [in one word], I would probably say, ‘fortunate,’” she said. “I was fortunate my kids got to come to school here. I was fortunate that I got to know the parents, and I don’t think I realized that until the ConnectEd came.”
Ray, as well as other speakers, acknowledged the strong bond held among parents, students and teachers that was evident in the grassroots rally led to save the school. She urged families to take a piece of Academy Heights with them as they move on to new schools.
“It can be bittersweet, and I know some of us will always have a little pit in our stomach over the whole situation,” Ray said. “But I challenge you to take those feelings and transfer them into going to your new school.”
On July 18, former Academy Heights students will begin the 2011-2012 year-round school year at West Pine Elementary School and Pinehurst Elementary School. The school system established a year-round program at both schools after parents urged the Board of Education to consider keeping the option in the Pinehurst attendance area.
Year-round students in kindergarten through second grade will attend Pinehurst Elementary, and students in in grades three through five will go to West Pine Elementary.
Larry Upchurch, deputy superintendent of Moore County schools, said preparations for the transition are well under way.
At its meeting Monday, the Board of Education is expected to approve a contract to build four additional classrooms on the 3-5 classroom wing of West Pine Elementary School to accommodate more students.
Upchurch said the expansion will be funded by the money left over from the original West Pine project, which was completed roughly $1.7 million under budget last year. He added that the West Pine building footprint was drafted with plans for expansion in mind.
“[The expansion] was a part of the plan initially,” Upchurch said. “We will simply be asking the board to move forward to approve utilizing existing bond funds for that project, since it has not been completely closed out yet.”
While the project is going on, students will be housed in three mobile classrooms, which will be moved onto the campus in the coming weeks.
“That will accommodate the needs that they have until the classrooms are finished and ready to be occupied,” Upchurch said.
He added that the school system expects to see the project completed by this December.
Pinehurst Elementary already has seven mobile units on campus and a restroom unit, which it plans to use to accommodate additional students.
Ray told the audience that initial meetings with principals and PTA members from both West Pine and Pinehurst have been very productive, and she expressed hopes that everyone can bring new ideas to the table.
“They’re great people,” she said. “They’re very excited about us coming. I think it can be a new partnership, and I challenge you today to go forward. Show them what being from Academy Heights means.”
The Academy Heights PTA has also worked with the school system to transfer Smart Boards, and playground equipment purchased with PTA funds will travel with students to both schools as need exists.
Though no contracts have been signed, several classroom teachers from Academy Heights also expect to travel with students to their new schools.
Keep Memories Alive
As a part of the school’s celebration of the last regular school day, students participated in various fun activities put on by parents and volunteers, while teachers took the time to pack up their classrooms and prepare for the new school year.
Fourth-grader Anna Hage-dorn said she feels some relief that teachers will be there to help with the transition.
“The teachers here all dedicate their time for us if we don’t understand something,” she said. “I’m glad they’ll be there for us [next year].”
Hagedorn’s classmate Shannon Foster always thought she would complete fifth grade at Academy Heights before moving on to middle school. Now that she’ll be attending West Pine Elementary for one year, change is bittersweet.
“It’s sad because our school is splitting us up,” Foster said. “You won’t get to see some of your friends, but it’s also exciting because you’re at a new school and you’re going to make new friends.”
Foster isn’t alone in her feelings as she prepares for change.
During the ceremony, retired Academy Heights principal Janice Mann sat in the audience reflecting on the 20 years she spent working at the school, overseeing its transition into the county’s first year-round school program in 1996.
After receiving the plaque from the school’s library, which is named in her honor, Mann asked everyone in the audience to try not to linger in the past as they take the school’s memory with them.
“Though those doors may close and lock, don’t let the memories lock in your mind,” she said. “Open your mind and your heart to a better future and to hope that you will always be a part of this great place.”
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
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