One-room Napa County schoolhouse to close

June 9, 2010 7:21:14 PM PDT
For millions of school kids around the state and the nation, this is a happy week with summer vacations beginning. However, in Napa County, Wednesday was the last day at one school that also has historical significance.

At Wooden Valley School in Napa County, this is a time of mixed emotions. There's the fun that always comes with the last week of class like learning how baking soda and vinegar react.

However, this year they have added anger and frustration over the end of an era.

"I get very emotional. It's hard," says teacher Leanne Lohand.

"I think it's really sad. I've been here since first grade," says 5th grader Brandon Quade.

Wooden Valley School opened in 1853. Since then, it has become the longest running, one-room school house in the state of California, but this year is its final one.

"We made it through the Civil War. We made it through the Depression. We've made it through the recession. This school can make it through all of that. It can survive this economic crisis also," says parent Wanda Berger

The Napa Unified School District has cut $20 million in the past two years; closing Wooden Valley will save $100,000 more. Money Superintendent John Glaser says the district desperately needs.

"You have to ask yourself what is good for the most number of kids?" says Glaser. "There are no easy answers. No low-hanging fruit left."

In Wooden Valley, they have seen this coming for years.

"You know what, nobody has any money right now," says Berger.

To fight off other proposed closings, parents have boosted enrollment, they lived without a bus, they even shared their principal, Susan Hall, with three other schools. Now, after 10 years with the district, she's budget casualty, too.

"It's tough times and some very difficult decisions that were made. It's painful," says Susan Hall.

And it seems to be painful for everyone.

Jane Clark-Cutting began at Wooden Valley in 1941, following her father and brother. She will miss the continuity that comes naturally from one community educating all of its children in one room for 157 years.

"Total belonging, security, predictability. You knew the other people, and you not only knew their kids, you knew their families," says Clark-Cutting.

Unlike a lot of other schools, it is common to see big kids playing with little kids in the playground and older ones coming back to help after they graduate, just because they still connect with the place.

Some would say it is like losing a family.

"Feels like an empty spot in my heart," says Daniel Norlund.

But that's the financial landscape these days. For the salary of a teacher, or two, a classroom will go vacant, an entire school will close, and a way of life will end.

"We're not losing it. It's becoming extinct," says Leanne Lohand.

The present is becoming the past before our very eyes.


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