Liberty County schools let out for summer today, but the annual occasion may be bittersweet for members of the Jordye Bacon Elementary School community.
The district’s oldest campus, which was constructed in 1964, will undergo a transformation this summer, and this fall will house the Coastal Academy and middle school Ombudsman programs.
The school’s students have been rezoned among six other elementary schools after the Liberty County Board of Education voted in September to consolidate the school, a move designed to save $3.2 million.
With the school’s closure and personnel downsizing through attrition, the board still has to cut another $600,000 for fiscal-year 2014 before adopting its budget. The board is expected to determine cuts during a 9 a.m. work session May 28.
For Jordye Bacon Principal Dr. Mike Johnson, the closure ends 18 years at the campus.
“Everybody’s been real upbeat, but it’s going to be sad Friday when we wave goodbye to our kids,” Johnson said Wednesday. “We’ll see some of them again, but most of them, we won’t see again. We have a very good group of parents that we’ll say goodbye to.”
For half the year, Johnson has split time at JBE and Button Gwinnett Elementary, where he will work next year. He said the school has hosted special activities in recent weeks as a way to say goodbye.
On May 17, the school hosted a family fun day with snow cones and popcorn — a more extravagant end-of-the-year celebration than typical years, he said.
At the beginning of the month, the school hosted a reunion where former teachers, staff and administrators gathered alongside the family of Jordye Bacon, the district’s first female superintendent for whom the school is named.
Teachers and staff have a timeline of when each section of the school must be vacated so work can begin to convert the campus, Johnson said.
Kindergarten teacher Amber Durrence, who has been at the school for 13 years, said she would eagerly unpack her boxes if the board reversed course.
Computer-lab teacher Brenda Dunlap started teaching at the school in 1997.
“It’s heartbreaking. We’re a family,” Dunlap said, adding it will be hard to maintain the “family” connections once staff members disperse to other campuses.
As for students, emotions are mixed.
First-grader James Eldridge said the school’s closure makes him sad.
“I’ll be missing friends that really are nice to me …,” James said. “I’ll miss our principal, our teachers, the playgrounds. I’ll miss the trees and everything. I might pick a leaf off a bush so I can remember Jordye Bacon.”
The school is the only remaining campus with open breezeways, one of the elements that BRPH architects cited as a potential security weakness at the campus when presenting an elementary-schools master plan in June 2012.
It’s another reason the school will be missed.
“We go throughout campus, and it’s an open space,” Durrence said. “The kids love it, we’re not enclosed — that breath of fresh air is good for the kids, good for us as teachers. It gives you a new perspective, even with the weather.”
Dunlap agreed, and added that the school has “rather generous” classroom sizes, so there will be an adjustment curve as teachers transition to smaller rooms at other schools.
Student Keighan Jack will spend his fifth-grade year at Button Gwinnett, and he said he’s eager for a change.
Sentiments also are mixed for third-grade student David Black, whose mother was a Jordye Bacon teacher.
“I’m kind of sad. This is like my first year and I’ve really made a lot of friends,” David said. “But I’m kind of happy because I’m going to the school that my mom’s going to, Frank Long.”
But he’s more focused on “what I’m going to be doing this summer and setting goals for next year,” he added.
Durrence and Dunlap said their new schools have been welcoming and prepared them for the transitions, but the end of the year still comes with sadness.
“I think that parents already know this, but the faculty and staff that we have at Jordye Bacon, we’re there for the kids. Not only do we teach them academically, we love them, and I want all parents to know that,” Durrence said.
“I’m going to miss watching them grow up,” Dunlap added. “Because I see every grade level, I’m going to miss watching them go from kindergarten up to fifth grade, and I have siblings from families that I’ve seen grow over the years. I’m really going to miss that.”