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Fifteen OKC schools close for good

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Principal Mitch Ruzzoli hugs Melody McCauley and Lyric McCauley, 6,  goodbye as their parents pick them up on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019.  [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]
Principal Mitch Ruzzoli hugs Melody McCauley and Lyric McCauley, 6, goodbye as their parents pick them up on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

Kids wearing blue sunglasses, a gift from the Oklahoma City Thunder, played outside Horace Mann Elementary School and snacked on cupcakes and drank from silver pouches with straws.

Summer vacation neared, and all looked right with the world.

Inside the building, however, the mood was noticeably different. Principal Mitch Ruzzoli, boxes packed with his belongings, sat and stared straight ahead, fighting back tears.

"Today's been hard," he said. "It's been an emotional day for everybody, including the kids."

Friday marked the end of an era for 96-year-old Horace Mann, 1105 NW 45, one of 15 Oklahoma City district schools that are closing as part of a plan to align facilities and resources with instructional needs.

The buildings will be used for other purposes, some to house other schools, according to district officials.

Edgemere, Edwards, Gatewood, Green Pastures, Johnson, Linwood, North Highland, Oakridge, Pierce, Putnam Heights, Sequoyah, Telstar and Westwood elementary schools and Oklahoma Centennial Mid-High also are closing.

Ruzzoli and his staff said goodbye to 350 kids, about 100 of whom will follow the principal and about 10 teachers to Martin Luther King Elementary in the coming school year.

"When everyone got here this morning, everyone was very somber, and when the parents dropped off the kids, the kids were somber," he said. "There were a lot of tears and a lot of hugs and a lot of pictures."

About 100 students will attend Wilson Elementary and about 100 students will attend Monroe, Ruzzoli said.

Parent Devin Haun is considering a school other than the one assigned to son Rykker, 7, who completed the first grade Friday.

"I think we're all disappointed that the school is closing," she said. "I mean I understand that we needed to restructure the district because we kind of were backed into a financial corner, that we couldn't keep all the schools open next year. But I just wish our school wasn't one of the ones, you know?

"It's been a great place, the teachers here are so supportive. I feel like they all work together very well as a team. It's just sad to see that team split up and all the kids split up, too."

Parent Mohammed Mezgaldi sat in his car and waited for his 8-year-old son to exit the building for the final time after four years.

"We were hoping that Horace Mann wouldn't be closed," he said. "Hopefully this new system, the Pathway to Greatness, is better than the old one. Wherever he goes, he's going to make new friends and the teacher's going to like him."

Ruzzoli, who taught at Horace Mann before becoming principal six years ago, started planning the school's future centennial celebration last year.

"We were going to have a big to-do," he said.

Six other elementary schools are being converted into middle schools, including Capitol Hill Elementary School in south Oklahoma City.

Principal Carson Cramer celebrated "the last day of Capitol Hill Elementary" with an awards ceremony and a healthy dose of reflection.

"There is some sadness because we are all going to different places," she said. "But there’s some happiness too, because it’s the end of the year. This is a new adventure, an opportunity for our students to make new friends."

About 150 of Cramer's 550 students will follow her to Adelaide Lee, where she will be the next principal. The rest, not including fifth- and sixth-graders who will remain in their building for middle school, will attend Shidler, Herronville and Cesar Chavez.

"Change is hard, it makes people nervous," Cramer said. "Parents are looking at us as school leaders. They want to know that this is going to be OK and we're going to take care of their babies.

"We're telling them that in the long run this is going to be better for their kids, that we're going to provide more opportunities for their children."

Related Photos
<strong>Principal Mitch Ruzzoli says goodbye to parent Maria Pacheo  as she picks up her children on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019.  [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Principal Mitch Ruzzoli says goodbye to parent Maria Pacheo as she picks up her children on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-00a138c2b9a8a426947d5accabf17c3f.jpg" alt="Photo - Principal Mitch Ruzzoli says goodbye to parent Maria Pacheo as she picks up her children on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Principal Mitch Ruzzoli says goodbye to parent Maria Pacheo as she picks up her children on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Principal Mitch Ruzzoli says goodbye to parent Maria Pacheo as she picks up her children on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-98f2ecd24ec72ad3ea997b66b2d91d57.jpg" alt="Photo - Principal Mitch Ruzzoli hugs Dereck Walker on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Principal Mitch Ruzzoli hugs Dereck Walker on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Principal Mitch Ruzzoli hugs Dereck Walker on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a9668095db0b674f508f1689a12116ac.jpg" alt="Photo - " title=""><figcaption></figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-4d1594009d9fa21dfa7ca0d97a737974.jpg" alt="Photo - Principal Mitch Ruzzoli hands out ice cream to students Friday. " title=" Principal Mitch Ruzzoli hands out ice cream to students Friday. "><figcaption> Principal Mitch Ruzzoli hands out ice cream to students Friday. </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-aae6d7ffdb96d280b0228605b18ec8fc.jpg" alt="Photo - Principal Mitch Ruzzoli hugs Melody McCauley and Lyric McCauley, 6, goodbye as their parents pick them up on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Principal Mitch Ruzzoli hugs Melody McCauley and Lyric McCauley, 6, goodbye as their parents pick them up on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Principal Mitch Ruzzoli hugs Melody McCauley and Lyric McCauley, 6, goodbye as their parents pick them up on the last day of school at Horace Mann Elementary in Oklahoma City, Friday, May 24, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Tim Willert

Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers K-12 education, including Oklahoma City Public Schools and the state Education Department. Before that he covered district, federal and appellate courts in Oklahoma County. Prior... Read more ›

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