What is supposed to be an exciting day was bittersweet for some of the nearly 40 eighth-graders at Horatio May Elementary Community Academy who walked across the stage last week. They were the last class to graduate from the school.
May is one of 49 schools closing this month, one of four in Austin. When school starts this fall, it will reopen with a new name, a new principal and many new teachers.
“I feel good but sad to see the rest of the teachers go,” said Brooklyn Erskin, 13.
Erskin, an honors student who will be attending George Westinghouse College Prep next year, said a lot of children — including her two younger siblings — won’t be returning to the West Side school this fall.
“My parents were upset. They like the school, and they connected with the teachers,” Brooklyn said.
Trevon Granville, this year’s valedictorian, said the teachers at May helped shape his future, adding that he participated in many clubs and sports because of their encouragement.
“I feel blessed, but it’s not so good to be last,” said Granville, 14, who will attend Westinghouse Prep High School. “Students below me wouldn’t have the same opportunities.”
His younger sister won’t be returning to the school either.
Evalina Thomas, whose 14-year-old daughter, Ebonie, graduated, said her daughter is upset about May closing.
“The teachers encouraged her individuality,” she said, adding that the teachers nurtured her daughter’s dream of becoming a graphic designer and making her own clothes.
“Teachers help the students individually. The teachers’ connection makes May,” said Thomas.
Some of the teachers will be able to stay on when the school reopens as George Leland Elementary School.
May Principal Roger Lewis said he expects about 55 to 60 percent of the teachers now at the school to be able to return under an agreement CPS reached with the Chicago Teachers Union, based on their performance and whether they have tenure.
It’s not clear how many teachers and staff at May learned Friday they are being laid off as part of action the district took citywide.
One staff member who won’t be returning is Demetrius Upchurch, a special education teacher’s assistant the past two years. Upchurch said it’s a shame May will cease to exist because of its long history.
“I think it’s going to be a hard transition,” said Upchurch, who will be working next school year at Ida B. Wells Preparatory Elementary School in Bronzeville.
“There’s quite a few staff who have been here … 19, 20, 25 years,” said Lewis, who served as principal at May the last six years and worked for CPS for 19 years. He, too, is out of a job.
The principal, teachers and students at Leland will move to the May building. Students from another shuttered Austin school — Louis Armstrong Math & Science Elementary School — will also move to the May building, while kindergarteners through 7th graders now attending May will remain at the school.
Last Tuesday’s graduation, which was held at Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School, is one of the last events for May Elementary.
A closing ceremony was held on June 18. Each class will choose an artifact to be put into a time capsule that will be buried on the side of the school, said Lewis.
June 19 was the last day of school at May.