Grand Lake teachers, others react to school closure
May 25, 2011
GRAND LAKE – A “We (heart) our school” banner still hung over the main entrance on Tuesday morning when students learned Principal Phyllis Price had important news for them.
Dressed in casual jeans for Field Day activities later that day, the principal sat on the stage in front of the children, gathered on the gymnasium floor. A few parents and teachers stood in the back of the room.
Price gently spoke.
“Remember all the talk you’d been hearing about Grand Lake Elementary?” she began.
Students then learned they would not be returning to their school after the summer break.
Grand Lake Elementary would be closed.
One student opened her mouth in shock. She gave a sideways glance at her friend sitting beside her.
Price explained to the kindergarten through fifth-graders that the school board had made its decision the night before. They had decided for the benefit of all students in all East Grand schools.
“But I want you to know,” the principal said, “it’s a sad time, but it’s also a happy time. All of our friends are going to go with us to our new school. Some of our teachers are going to Granby with us.”
One boy in the front row bragged he went to the Granby school back in first grade.
“It’s a lovely school,” Price said of Granby Elementary. “It’s a very nice school.”
Price added that although they would be attending school in Granby, their Grand Lake “playground will still be here. You can still come here and play. But the school won’t have classes and teachers.”
Price planned to escort the students to Granby the next day to introduce to them their new school.
Yet for now, they would enjoy the Field Day planned for them, followed by a lunchtime barbecue.
They had four days left to enjoy their neighborhood school, which ends its school calendar on Friday.
“We’re going to have a good day today,” Price told them. “Tomorrow we’re going to have a good day.
“Every day is a good day at Grand Lake Elementary.”
“I was OK until I saw the parents, teary-eyed,” said kindergarten teacher Jan Gamez, choking back her own feelings about her school. Gamez, who has taught elementary students for 34 years, is about to end her 15th year at Grand Lake Elementary School.
Although it may be sad news for some students, she said, adults can really learn from their resilient nature.
Already her kindergartners had moved on to thoughts about popsicle-stick structures they were making as gifts for Father’s Day.
During their morning Show and Tell, “Miss G” asked her class about what to expect next year. She boasted of her students’ readiness in reading and math, even in playing chess. They were well-equipped for first grade at Granby, she said.
“We might make science experiments,” kindergartner Tyler offered.
“I heard they have a special science teacher there,” Gamez responded positively. “And so you will have that science teacher. Does that sound cool?”
They all nodded their heads in agreement.
“I’ve never been more proud of Grand Lake for the way (people) presented themselves,” Gamez later said of the effort town leaders, parents and other Grand Lake supporters put forth in trying to save the school.
“I really believe that we held our heads up high through this whole process,” she said.
The building of eight classrooms, a computer room, a library, a gymnasium, faculty quarters and a music room was built in 1979 for up to 120 students, but it has never reached that capacity.
Three years ago, $171,000 in improvements were made through the interest gained on a district-wide bond. New carpet, new boilers, a new fire alarm system, a newly painted gym, new benches and playground equipment were installed.
Despite those improvements along with other changes to make the school more appealing to prospective families, enrollment continued to decline. Projections now show that Grand Lake might have just 43 students next year, Price said.
“I’m sad,” the principal said, after Tuesday night’s school board decision. “But I realize with declining enrollment and the situation of the school budget, the board had tough decisions to make. And that’s what they were elected for.”
She, like Gamez and other staff members of Grand Lake, remained unsure what the future holds for them personally.
“Right now, I want to concentrate on making the transition smooth for our children,” Price said. “And to make them understand they will still be loved and cared for at Granby Elementary.”
Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603