MADISON — How do you say goodbye to a beloved neighborhood school?
With confetti, cotton candy, games, a live band, time capsules and much more.
On Saturday, June 8, from 3 to 6 p.m., Island Avenue students, their families, teachers, and the Madison community will celebrate the closing of Island Avenue School and leave to town history 68 years of growing the minds and hearts of Madison children.
On July 12, the keys to the red brick building that opened Oct. 23, 1950, will pass from the district to the town of Madison. Declining enrollment, the age of the building, and many studies resulted in a unanimous Board of Education vote on Oct. 17, 2017, to close the school.
Island Avenue School opened Oct. 23, 1950, during the population boom of the post-World War II era. The school was built on land known as the “daisy fields.”
Peter Lemley who entered Island Avenue School its opening year recalled how those fields became their joyful school playgrounds.
“We played kickball and King of the Mountain. It was a lot of fun, and I made lifelong friends at Island Avenue. Great teaching, too! We had a full-time school nurse we all loved, and a dental hygienist came two times a week – Margaret Massini, she’s a local friend since then, too. The school had a big gym and the juniors and seniors in the district held their proms there it was so big.”
Lorey Walz who also entered Island Avenue in 1950 recalled, “We were very excited with this bright new school building – the only elementary school in Madison. (Academy School previously housed all kindergarten through high school students.) Her four grandchildren now attend Island Avenue School. Walz remembers one of her teachers, Mrs. Seymour Page (Linnea), who is still living in Madison.
This last school year of Island Avenue School found principal, Rebecca Frost, her staff and the Parent-Teacher Organization focused on optimism.
Frost had become principal just this school year and faced the challenge with considerable planning.
“We involved everyone in the school and in the community. We issued invitations to all to come and help us keep it positive. This staff has been amazing, and the parents gave their all. We kept the traditions going and started new traditions,” she said. “We want to take the positive feelings to our new school.”
Frost will be moving with the kindergarten, first and second-grade Island children to Jeffrey Elementary School. She will become the principal this newly-configured as kindergarten through third grade in the fall. Current Island Avenue third and fourth-graders will move to Brown Elementary School, which will house fourth and fifth-graders in the district. (A group of current students at Jeffrey Elementary will transfer to Ryerson Elementary to accommodate the incoming Island Avenue children.)
In recounting the steps for the move Frost admitted, “I was doing fine, but then the packing boxes arrived last week, and that hit a lot of us hard. We explained the boxes to the students to help them understand the process.”
Switching on a bright smile, she showed off the list of ideas for a final Spirit Assembly that Frost and student leaders prepared on two large sheets of paper, just like corporate strategic planning committees use. (One student idea: “keep it secret!”) Students will visit their new schools, tour the classrooms, play games on their new playgrounds, and have an ice cream social — all part of the transition plan.
“The kids are now excited! They see the advantages, the positives,” said Frost. Even though the current teachers at Island Avenue will be moving to three different schools, “they’ve been very professional about it, even though they are leaving long-time colleagues and friends on the staff,” said Frost.
“We’re sad and happy at the same time. Everybody just adores this school, but are looking forward to the next chapter,” said Suzanne Murphy-Almouzayn, parent of a second-grader and co-president of the Island Avneue PTO. She attended Island Avenue Elementary in early grades with her sister.
“This is a tight-knit community. I know all the parents in my child’s class,” added Liz Tucker-Plasky, PTO co-president. “Families whose parents and grandparents, other relatives who all went to Island Avenue went through grieving stages. But Becky made it easy to get through this.”
This was Frost’s first experience in closing a school. “I relied on the kids – the student leadership teams and the staff.”
The school, originally called Madison Elementary School, was dedicated on Oct. 22, 1950, the day before it officially opened for students. The ceremony was solemn and included the laying of a cornerstone with local documents, a band playing the national anthem, and a speech by Robert T. Cairns, chair of the building committee, who quoted Aristotle on the purposes of education and referenced Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Locke, Paine and Jefferson.
A few weeks later, the local paper (then called The Shore Line Times) sent a reporter to see how things were going, reporting: “The youngsters and the teachers are obviously happy and well-adjusted in the ideal surroundings which have been provided. Apparently most of the townspeople are also sharing the thrill and the pride which go with the new school.”