Difficult goodbyes at schools closing in District 834

Oak Park Elementary staff wave goodbye to the last bus of students leaving the Stillwater school May 31, the last day of the school year. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

May 31 was a day of “mixed emotions,” in the words of Oak Park Elementary School Principal Nate Cox.

It was the last day of school in District 834, and the end of an era for students, parents and staff at three elementary schools slated for closure — Marine, Oak Park and Withrow.

“It’s a sad day,” said Jen Cass of Oak Park Heights, whose fifth-grader is going to Stillwater Middle School next year. “The fact that we’re all in it together helps a little.”

Principal Cox stood outside the school waving to parents and students when school let out at 3:10 p.m.

“We had a good day and a hard day,” he told one parent.

“It definitely was a day of mixed emotions, but I think it was also a day of celebration,” Cox told The Gazette later. “I would just say I could not be more proud of the staff here. Even with all the change, they continued to put kids first.”

Cox said he’s grateful for the support the school has received from parents and the community. Like some students, Cox will go to Lily Lake Elementary next year, where he’ll serve as principal.

Erik Kubitschek, of Stillwater, said his fourth-grade son will also go to Lily Lake next year.

“Just like any other kid going to a new school, [he] is a little nervous,” Kubitschek said.

As a result of the school closure, Kubitschek said his son is “losing half his friends” next year, because they’re not all going to Lily Lake. In addition, he’ll face the challenge of attending three schools in three years.

“He’s at Oak Park this year; next year he’ll be at Lily Lake; and then he’ll be at another school the next year,” Kubitschek said.

Like many parents with kids at Marine, Oak Park or Withrow, Kubitschek is angry with the school district’s leadership. He questions the transparency of the decision to close schools, and doubts the move will actually save the projected $1.3 million a year.

“We want to see results,” he said.

Brenda Grubb, of Oak Park Heights, takes a photo of Oak Park Principal Nate Cox May 31 with Grubb’s children, from left, Gavin, Chelsea and Ryan. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Among students, feelings were mixed. They were excited for the summer, but there was also sadness.

Gavin Grubb, who’s going into first grade at Lily Lake next year, said he felt “sad and happy, because my school’s closing and summer.”

Among parents and staff there were tears shed and hugs given. As staff members said their goodbyes, many shared which school they’ll work at next year.

Most staff approached by The Gazette didn’t want to comment on the record, but one responded with a quote attributed to Dr. Seuss:

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Contact Jonathan Young at jonathan.young@ecm-inc.com