Saturday, May 29, 2004

Students, teachers say emotional farewell to Windsor

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WALNUT HILLS - Tracie Ditchen, a kindergarten teacher at Windsor School in Walnut Hills, said it's tough saying goodbye to the 116-year-old school where she's taught the last four years.

Carmen Reese gives her kindergarten teacher, Tracie Ditchen, a big hug during a "Farewell to Windsor" school assembly on the final day of classes.
(Gary Landers photo)
Ditchen's classroom is the same one her grandfather attended as a first-grader in the 1920s, and she loves the school's arched windows, decorative trim along the roof and Romanesque entrance.

"It's very sad to let go, but it's had its day," she said.

As school let out for summer Friday, the last Windsor class ever bounded down the cracked steps.

The school, built in 1888, is the first building to close as part of Cincinnati Public Schools' $1 billion, 10-year construction project.

A new $10.8 million school, combining Windsor and Douglass schools, is scheduled to be built in Walnut Hills on the 2600 block of Kemper Road on the same block as Bush Community Center. It's expected to open in 2006.

Old newspaper clippings show that the district recommended in 1971 that Windsor should be replaced or closed. Articles from the 1970s detailed problems, including inadequate wiring, leaky pipes, small lunchrooms, crowded play areas, and inadequate children's bathrooms, one of which was known as "the elephant house" for its stench.

More than 30 years later, students and staff are looking forward to a new 650-student pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade building.

The school will include air conditioning, a modern heating system, a regulation-size gymnasium, a media center, technology-ready classrooms, and a separate playground for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students.

Because of declining enrollment, Windsor school kids will move into the Douglass school this fall, and both school populations are expected to move into the new building in two years.

Friday drew mixed emotions from teachers and students who are excited about the new school but sad about Windsor's closing.

Teachers wore "Farewell to Windsor" shirts that read: "It was more than just a job. It was an awesome adventure."

Amber Young, 12, who will head to Walnut Hills High School next year, won't be able to attend school at the new building. She fought back tears, saying she loved Windsor.

"We're like a family," the sixth-grader said. "Since the school is so small, we just know each other."

Veronica Cotton, a fourth-grade teacher who spent 15 years at Windsor, said leaving the school is like leaving home. But she knows it's for the best.

"I want to be the one to see (the students) get what they deserve," she said.

Principal Leniese Fuqua, who will head Mount Airy School next year, gave the kids a hearty send-off during an awards ceremony.

"I am so proud of what we've become," she said.

"I hope when you go to Douglass, (the principal) will call me and say, 'You could not have sent a better group of kids.'

"You are the last group to walk through these doors. Make us proud."



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