Story and photos by Kathy Mulady
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
The sweet promise of summer vacation was tainted by tears Friday as students, teachers, parents and volunteers slowly and regretfully left Cooper Elementary School for the last time.
Students emerged from the building to walk through the “goodbye path” lined by teachers and tutors offering hugs, best wishes, and occasionally some final words of advice.
But as the kids headed for the sidewalks, jumped into parents’ cars, and as the last school bus drove away, teachers found it impossible to hold back their tears or their anger at Seattle Public Schools for ending the Cooper Elementary program.
Most of the students, except for the special class for autistic children, will be scattered to schools throughout the city. Pathfinder K-8 students will move into the Cooper building next fall; their previous home, the closed-once-before Genesee Hill building, will close again.
“It’s a crime,” said kindergarten teacher Elizabeth McCullough Guevara, who has been at Cooper since 1991. “The heck with Pathfinder, I will never feel good about them being here. I love them, but I just don’t get why they need to be in our school.”
She will continue to teach, at Loyal Heights Elementary, but she will always feel something is missing. “This is the most beautiful school in the city,” she said.
As the last students left, Jennifer Outhouse, known as “Ms. O” to her special education students, sobbed uncontrollably.
She was comforted by Micky Popovich, part of the after-school teacher program, also in tears.
“We are such a team, such an amazing mix of good people,” said Popovich.
Shelley Williams, a former Cooper Elementary student, now a Cooper parent and tutor, was almost too angry to cry. She is part of the lawsuit filed against the district to try to stop the closure.
“I have been fighting for this school for the last four years,” she said. Williams is hopeful the judge in the case will announce a decision in favor of Cooper before June 26, the day teachers have to pack up and go.
“I want to know who in this city is their brother’s keeper? This is just so wrong,” she said. Williams says she is convinced the school board is guilty of racism in its closure decision. (Editor’s note: According to the demographic summaries in each school’s “annual report” for the school year that concluded today, Pathfinder [report here] had 35% students of color and 35% students who qualify for free/reduced-price lunch; Cooper [report here] had 77% students of color and 71% free/reduced-price lunch.)
While a few parents said the change will work out okay for them, with their children moving to schools closer to home, most parents we spoke with were bitter.
Some started to cry when asked where there children will go next year.
“I don’t know where my youngest will go,” Lashana Coe said of her second grader. “I’ve been in West Seattle for 12 years. I have always lived at High Point. I am very disappointed. I don’t know what will happen to my daughter; this could affect her whole academic career.
“We’ve been so happy with Cooper, it has a lot of resources to offer students. The teachers know them all,” said Coe.
For the few who will be staying at Cooper, the last day was bittersweet.
“It’s hard to think that all these kids won’t come back to this beautiful location,” said Janelle Hargesheimer, an instructional assistant who is staying at the Cooper building with the autism program. “I try to stay optimistic, but it still feels like a very sad thing to happen.”