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Former educators, administrators look back fondly on Sherman Elementary School


OGDENSBURG — Sherman Elementary School has a neighborhood, family feel that no other school in the city could ever replicate.

That was the feeling from the school’s past educators and administrators when looking back on their time at the Franklin Street school, which will close June 30 after almost 120 years educating the city’s children.

“Sherman School holds many, many special memories of its students and their parents,” said retired Principal Mary Margaret M. Small, who was at Sherman from 1997 until 2006. “We really were a school family.”

“It was always a nice, welcoming place,” said retired art teacher Lorre A. Florin, who taught at Sherman from 1979 until 1983 and had been a shared art teacher among all of the elementary schools when she started in 1967. “You always felt at home going there.”

Teachers knew each other and were close to one another. Parents were a major part of the school’s small community.

“Our parents and grandparents and siblings were a part of the daily school experience for our students,” Mrs. Small said. “You would see them eating lunch with their child any day of the week, or bringing in the cake for our monthly birthday lunch with the principal. Our parents were the speakers for our monthly character assemblies. Older brothers and sisters would often help with events such as Family Bingo Night or Christmas cookie decorating.”

Multiple generations of families were educated there since the school first opened its doors in 1895.

Retired kindergarten teacher Cynthia I. Wilson taught three generations of some families during her 34 years at Sherman.

“I think that’s one of the neat things about Sherman,” Mrs. Wilson said. “It was such a family school. You knew all the children. And it didn’t matter what class they were in; they were like everybody’s children.”

“It’s been really interesting to see former students grow up and see how they turned out,” said former first-grade teacher Sandra J. Plimpton, who taught there from 1972 to 1983. “I’ve stayed in touch with the teachers I taught with and went back to walk down memory lane when they had the Sherman open house. I think it’s hardest on those who went there who are still in town and have to watch it being closed.”

Sherman covers prekindergarten through second grade, but at one time taught first through sixth grade.

It still covered classes up to fourth grade when Judith J. Doan started teaching first grade there in 1970. She taught there until 1974, then substitute taught for a few years before returning permanently to the classroom from 1980 until 2003.

“It was a small, neighborhood school with great kids, great parents and great grandparents who were always willing to help in any way they could,” Mrs. Doan said in an email message from her home in Arlington, Va.

“It has always been so warm and friendly. Because it was a small school, the teachers and students got to know everyone in the whole school, not just the students or teachers in their own class,” she wrote.

Mrs. Doan said she has fond memories of field trips to get ice cream or spend a day in the park, all within a few short blocks’ walk.

“After thinking about all the kids, teachers, adults who went through the doors of Sherman School, the lessons learned, the memories made, I know that Sherman will be in my heart forever,” she said.

Fourth-grade teacher Barbara M. Ruggeri spent the bulk of her teaching career at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, but she said she has fond memories of the three years she spent at Sherman from 1966 until 1969.

“Everybody supported one another and everybody helped,” she said. “It was a little neighborhood and a little group of teachers. You got to know everybody really well. You got to know the kids who were coming up from third grade before they even got to fourth grade.”

Even then, parents were an important part of the school fabric, she said.

“There weren’t the discipline problems like they seem to be having today in the schools,” she said. “If you had a problem with a child and you sat down with the parents to talk to them, you got full support from them so you could take care of the problem.”

First- and second-grade teacher Patricia L. Wilson, aside from one year substitute teaching, has been at Sherman since her student teaching days in retired second-grade teacher Nancy R. Siegel’s classroom 32 years ago.

“Sherman School is a great little neighborhood building,” she said. “I’m going to miss it. We have a neighbor who waves to us every morning as we pull in the driveway. We’re going to miss him, and I’m sure he’s going to miss us.”

The school’s absence in the neighborhood worries Mrs. Plimpton, although she said she understands the financial pressures that prompted the school district to consolidate its elementary buildings. She said she hopes the district finds a buyer for the building.

“It’s hard to see another empty building in Ogdensburg,” Mrs. Plimpton said. “The neighborhood also has the old St. Joseph’s building, which is empty, and I’m worried about that neighborhood.”

Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey said the school district will actively try to market the building so it can be put back into some kind of productive use.

He said he understands the sentiment surrounding the school’s closure.

At the recent graduation ceremony, students shared their memories of the school. He said one child said if she had the money, she would buy it.

“I said it’s a beautiful old building, but buildings don’t make memories; people make memories. The people who have worked here, the children who have come through the doors, the parents, that’s what makes the memories of this building,” Mr. Vernsey said. “All my kids went there. It’s a beautiful old school, but because of the way things are, it’s probably time to move away from neighborhood schools, even in a small city like Ogdensburg. It’s time.”

City school board member Betty J. Mallott, a former principal of Sherman, echoed that sentiment. She said the expansion at Kennedy School to absorb Sherman students and students to be displaced with the closure of Lincoln Elementary School next year will result in an efficient, beautiful building.

“Time moves on, and the building at Kennedy is going to be absolutely knock-your-eyes-out beautiful,” she said.

She said she, too, hopes the district finds a buyer for the building.

“It could make offices or nice apartments,” she said. “Everything is there; it’s just outdated for young children. I hope somebody values the history of it and the fact that it is still a sound building.”

Despite uncertainty about the building’s future as Sherman School prepares to close, former educators will hold onto the happy memories the building represents for them.

“We were all blessed to have had the opportunity to teach there,” Mrs. Wilson said. “There were so many good things that happened there. It was exciting because children were happy to be there. That’s what we wanted, for it to be a place where children loved learning, and that’s what it was.”

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