Last day of school brings emotions for Pinckney community as school closes

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For the Pinckney Elementary School community, the last day of school this year really does mean the last day of the school.

On Wednesday, the last day of the 2022-23 academic year, the nearly century-old school closed for good. It and Broken Arrow are victims of the Lawrence school district’s recently announced budget cuts. The present Pinckney building is one of the earliest schools in Lawrence, built in 1931 and located at 810 W. Sixth St. 

When the clock hit 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, students flooded out of the building for the final time. Many educators, families and community members hugged each other and cried, and some stuck around for a while to soak in the final moments.

Lena Saltmarsh and Juniper Liston were two of the students who lingered behind. They had just wrapped up their third-grade year at Pinckney. From making ice cream to visiting their favorite previous teacher, Ms. (Briena) Matzke, to seeing a baby mouse run under a food truck at their Pinckney Palooza year-end event, they said they had a blast at school this year. But they’ll miss the comfort they felt at Pinckney most of all, the pair agreed. 

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times David Liston, at left, Juniper Liston, Lena Saltmarsh and Mary Douglas

“It’s just very welcoming,” Lena said. “Pinckney isn’t just a school. It’s a home.”

Lena and Juniper plan to attend Hillcrest next year for fourth grade. Mary Douglas, Juniper’s mother, said she attended Hillcrest for elementary school and is confident in the teachers across the district. 

And David Liston, Lena’s father and a former Pinckney Panther himself, called Pinckney a “city treasure” and said the school’s legacy won’t be lost even after the doors close.

“Once a panther, always a panther,” David said.

Becky Spradlin retired in 2010 after 33 years of teaching fifth and sixth grades at the school. She and several other retired Pinckney teachers gathered in front of the school for dismissal on Wednesday and sang the school fight song as students and staff exited the building. 

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times Becky Spradlin, far right, and several other retired Pinckney teachers gathered at the school Wednesday morning for the last dismissal.

Spradlin reminisced about her time teaching at Pinckney and the vast number of lives she came in contact with. She still stays in touch with many former colleagues and students.

“Oh my gosh, just all the people — the people, the staff and students and the families — I mean, everybody was like a family,” Spradlin said.

Tamara Coyle, whose oldest daughter, Bella, just finished third grade, said she and her family had previously experienced homelessness, and the community support at Pinckney — notably the support of her family’s social worker, Deena Wilson — poured into her and helped give her strength.

“Devastated” is the first word that comes to mind when she thinks about losing what she and her children have come to love.

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times Tamara Coyle, at center, is pictured with her daughters Bella Coyle, left, and Cora Coyle, bottom, as well as her family’s school social worker Deena Wilson, right.

“Without the support of the Pinckney staff in here, we would have fallen through,” Coyle said. “One reason why we were homeless was so I wouldn’t uproot [Bella] from school and then this year we’re finding out that they’re shutting down Pinckney, so we were homeless basically for no reason out here because I couldn’t move back to Kansas City – I didn’t want to take her from the support.”

Tamara has a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter who she had wanted to send to Pinckney. While she has enrolled Bella at Woodlawn Elementary School for her fourth-grade year, Tamara said their plans still are up in the air, and she’s considering moving back to Missouri where her family is.

Bella said she’ll miss walking through the hallways of Pinckney, which has lots of pictures she enjoyed looking at, and seeing her friends.

“Pinckney’s very nice and I love it,” Bella said. “It’s not too big, not too small, and I have all my friends and it’s just the right school for me.”

Dustin Brown’s two children attended Pinckney this year: Cora just finished fourth grade and Ben just finished kindergarten. Brown and his family have mixed emotions about Pinckney’s closing; they’re prepared to move forward but wish they could still have their neighborhood school community, he said.

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times Cora Brownley, at left, with her father Dustin Brown

“We’re excited about the next steps and obviously really sad about this school closure,” Brown said. “There are a lot of great teachers here and a great community. We walk to school every day, and there’s oftentimes six parents walking with us to school every day, so it’s gonna be sad to have that taken away.”

Cora Brownley, Brown’s daughter, who will attend Hillcrest Elementary School for fifth grade, said she will miss “everything” about Pinckney, especially the Friday morning openers, when the entire school and students’ families rallied together.

Pinckney, renovated just a few years ago, is unlikely to stand empty. The district plans to move its Community Transition (C-Tran) programs to the building. That is dependent on a plan the Lawrence school board approved on Monday evening to try to sell its East Heights property, located at 1430 Haskell Ave., which currently houses the C-Tran programs.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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