parents were still vocal on their blog
and Facebook page, but the population
of angry parents had dwindled. Most
families accepted the change.
The New School Year
This past September, the first day of
school with 100 newly transferred students brought me more stress than most
first days. I worried that the bus ride
would be too long for the new students
or that we’d see an increase in parent
phone calls. Trying to set a good tone, I
assured everyone that the day would be
like any other opening day—and it was.
Just like every year, parents dropped
their children off and gave them a hug.
Kids came in excited to begin their
Fortunately, we had transferred some
longtime staff from George Washington
to Poestenkill. Because of a series of
faculty retirements and
teacher moves, we were able
to bring a beloved secretary,
a social worker, the physical
education teacher, and three
classroom teachers to the new
school. 2 These teachers and
staff members were posted
in the hallways to welcome
students. The former George
Washington principal came
for the morning to welcome
students back to school.
As the school year went
on, natural transition events
surfaced, such as having
former George Washington
parents participate in Magic
Moments or inviting them
to attend a special meeting
with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who
visited our school in October.
450 Poestenkill Elementary
School students participated
My colleagues and I learned the fol-
lowing lessons about how to success-
fully navigate a school closing:
created effective transition events; they
were the ones who supported the con-
solidation out in the community.
n Get your district behind you. Our
districtwide administrative team worked
hard together. Even principals who
were not affected by the consolidation
provided support and ideas.
n Realize the transition may never be
completely over. We’ve initiated a two-
year plan at Poestenkill Elementary
to help create more of a community
throughout the school. We still work to
make sure all our students feel safe and
can work through the issues that come
with switching buildings.
Looking back on that cold night in
front of a roomful of angry parents, I
realize that, much as I disliked being on
the receiving end of harsh comments,
they helped me understand the com-
munity’s point of view. The parents
had helped create something
special at George Wash-
ington, and they were sad to
see that community go away.
Together, we have built a new
Do’s & Don’ts for School Closings
n Involve the community in the discussion.
n Discuss the pros and cons of closing a school.
n Conduct an enrollment study of your area so you can
present facts about why a school closing makes
n Stay ahead of the message the public receives.
n Remember that every decision has to be about
2The two schools had always
shared a music teacher and a
librarian; with consolidation,
these became full-time positions
in one building.
n Ignore the public. Listen to what people are saying,
even though you may not agree.
n Make promises you can’t keep.
n Forget that there is a cost to closing a school building
just as there is a cost to keeping one open.
n Allow the media to carry the message without
n Forget to involve the students, faculty, and staff.
Peter M. De Witt is principal
of Poestenkill Elementary
School in Averill Park, New
York, and a consultant for
the International Center for
Leadership in Education;
Josephine Moccia is superintendent of Averill Park Central
School District; mocciaj@