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One last picnic at old Milton Elementary

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For long-time teachers, staff, move 'bittersweet'

By Phyllis McLaughlin

The Trimble Banner

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Monday was a “bittersweet” day, as parents, retirees and others from the community attended the “Past and Present” picnic with teachers and students at the current Milton Elementary School.

The school, built in 1952, is being replaced with a brand-new building about 2 miles south on U.S. Hwy. 421.

Before the festivities began, teacher Shelly Ginn could be overheard from the hallway telling her students: “When you grow up, you can say you were in the last first-grade class to go to the old Milton school.”

Passing by the classroom, interim Principal Deania Hurst smiled to parents who had come for the day. “It’s all kind of bittersweet, isn’t it,” she said, smiling.

Hurst was principal of Milton Elementary from 1991-99, and returned from retirement to serve as a temporary replacement for Chris Kindred, who resigned last year to take another job.

The event kicked off with a welcome to visitors, students and staff from Hurst, Supertintendent Marcia Dunaway and Board of Education member J.W. Sachleben, who addressed the school via closed-circuit TV from the media room.

Sachleben said he attended “the old school in the holler,” and was a student when the current school was once the “new” school. At that time, he was getting ready for his seventh-grade year, and attended the brand-new building on the hilltop, which then housed grades one through eight.

Sachleben said the school immediately was overcrowded, because of new residents moving to the county to work at the power plant. “We had 400 students,” he said. “There was no gym; the cafeteria had a stage. ...

In 1960, they built the gym and the stage became the library.”

To alleviate overcrowding, grades seven and eight later were moved to the high school in Bedford, Sachleben said.

In the early 1970s, Sachleben returned to MES – this time as principal, a job he had until 1983. He later became superintendent and now serves on the Board of Education.

Eventually, the district added a library onto the building and installed air conditioning, Sachleben said.

“There’s a lot of history in this building,” he said. “But a school is made up of people, it’s not the building. The new school, I think, will be an excellent place.

Dunaway said moving will begin next week, including furniture, school supplies and all of the boxes that teachers have packed in their classrooms. The playground also will be moved in mid-June, she said.

“There will be an open house, probably in August, and I want everyone to come and see our new facility because it is beautiful,” Dunaway said.

After the address, students, faculty and visitors filed through the cafeteria for a picnic lunch, complete with decorated tables outside on the parking lot and on the grass beneath the trees.

Sharon Cywinski, who has taught special education at MES for eight years, said she is still working to pack up her classroom.

“It’s a big step; it’s exciting and sad at the same time,” she said, adding that teachers have to finish packing by the weekend. “You never really know how much stuff you have, until you start packing.”

Fritzi Jackson said the last few weeks have been chaos, and agrees the move will be sad in some ways. She said her husband, Milton City Commissioner Denny Jackson, attended school at MES and his father worked the school’s annual fish fry since the beginning.

Seated with Cywinski and Jackson was Lana Branco, whose son, Mason, 6, is Cywinski’s student and Jackson’s charge during the day. Mason has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair for mobility.

“I’m excited because the new school is handicapped accessible,” Branco said. “It’s going to be more convenient for him.”

She said her son says he is looking forward to no longer having to maneuver stairs. Built long before the Americans with Disabilities Act, the old building has stairs leading from classrooms to the cafeteria and gym, as well as steps leading to the front entrance.

Branco said Mason has excelled since starting kindergarten at MES in the fall. “He gets physical, occupational and speech therapy here,” she said.

“He has come so far; he has done really well,” Jackson said.

Brenda Richmond, who served as the school secretary for 22 years, attended the picnic with two of her four grandchildren who are MES students.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Richmond said about the move. “It is bittersweet, but it’s also exciting. And necessary.”

Third-grade teacher Jane Vande Water agreed. “The power goes off in my classroom every day, at least once,” she said. “We have to reboot the computers.”

Vande Water has spent most of her 28-year career teaching at the Milton school. “Most people who taught here retired from here,” she said, adding that it feels like home. “We’re truly a family. Most of us have worked together for so long.”

Still, Vande Water said she is excited about the move – mostly because she and the other teachers finally will be able to use their new SmartBoards – electronic white boards that are integrated with computers.

And there will be plenty of electrical outlets, she said, smiling. “I’ve never taught in a new building. It’s gonna be amazing.”