Elementary school students across the Kingston City School District return to class on Tuesday, Sept. 6. It’s an annual ritual set in motion well in advance by teachers, administrators and staff, all working hard to make the transition as smooth as possible. This year will be markedly different at Frank L. Meagher Elementary, as next Tuesday will be the last ever first day of school there.

Meagher Elementary Principal Dr. Paula Perez and first-grade teacher Carol Dexter. (Photo by Dan Barton)

After a century of serving students, the relatively small neighborhood school on Wynkoop Place will close its doors for good at the end of the 2011-12 school year, a casualty of a district facing a declining student population and a greatly reduced state aid package. Meagher learned the news of its fate prior to the end of the last school year, with its students going into the summer uncertain of where they’ll wind up attending school in September 2010.

With the understanding that the closure of Meagher will be hard for the school community, Kingston Central School District officials and the Meagher PTA have been working together to ease the transition’s pain. The primary philosophy in this process will involve celebrating Meagher, both in what it means to the current student body and what it’s meant through the years.

“Meagher has a wonderful history, and we want to be able to celebrate the success of Meagher as a community school for all these years,” said District Superintendent Gerard Gretzinger. “We want to approach it in a very positive way, starting with the very first day of school.”

In recent years, Meagher has welcomed its students to school with something of a pep rally — a celebration geared toward fostering a sense of school spirit before the first book is even cracked open. This year’s rally will be expanded to allow parents to join their kids and will also be widely attended by school officials and others.

“It will start out in the parking lot and all of the teachers will be out there,” Gretzinger said. “I’ll be there and I’ve asked my cabinet to be there. I also hope to be able to invite some of the other dignitaries in Kingston, maybe have the mayor join us and other people.”

The plan, according to Gretzinger, is to have parents be with their children in the classrooms, then head to the gymnasium for an assembly where Dr. Paula Perez, the school’s principal, will join members of the PTA in discussing what the kids have to look forward to over the school year.

The year will be marked by other events as well, including an open house on Tuesday, Sept. 20; a PTA-sponsored alumni reunion and dance at St. Mary’s Hall on Saturday, Oct. 22; a family picnic field day at Hutton Park; and a moving-up ceremony for all students rather than just kindergartners and 5th graders.

Perez said the announcement of Meagher’s closure has already brought in calls from people who saw their lives positively impacted by the school over the years.