The last day of school in Columbia County had greater significance this year for five schools, and it was the last day of Charles Nagle’s class visits as the boss.
As the retiring school superintendent left his house Tuesday morning, Nagle’s wife told him, “have a wonderful last, last day,” he said. He spent most of that day visiting county schools “trying to feel the love,” he said.
“I’ve realized that rather than being over-emotional because it’s the end, I realized how blessed I am to have chosen this profession,” Nagle said. “Hopefully, I’ve been a positive influence on a few lives.”
Emotions ran the gamut across the county, especially for four of the county’s schools that are packing up to move – and Bel Air Elementary, which closed.
Bel Air’s population will be distributed to the new, larger Evans and Martinez elementary schools, and Martinez will occupy Bel Air’s campus next year as its school is built. Bel Air’s campus likely will be sold after Martinez pupils move back to their campus.
“We’re trying to focus on fun, not sad,” Bel Air teacher Joy Hoover said Tuesday as she signed yearbooks for students. “It’s a sad day, too.”
Teachers gathered on the front lawn to sing through tears as the last bus carrying students pulled away. The sing-a-long ended in a group hug.
First-grader Christina Medina, 7, will be attending second grade at the new Evans Elementary School next year.
“I’m sad that I’m leaving here,” Christina said as she enjoyed the last few moments on the Bel Air playground with her friends. “But I’m glad I’m going to the new school.”
In addition to those moves, the Columbia County Alternative School will relocate to the vacant Evans Elementary.
“It’s so bittersweet, but it’s definitely exciting,” said Ja’Net Bishop, the alternative school principal. “We’re so looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great opportunity to have our students in a centralized location.”
They’re also anticipating amenities that other schools take for granted.
“We’ll have a lunchroom and a gym,” Bishop exclaimed. “In January 2015 we’ll be celebrating our 20th anniversary, so for us to have a cafeteria and gym after nearly 20 years in existence, we just feel so blessed and fortunate.”
Columbia Middle School Principal Steven Cummings also is looking forward to his school’s move to its new campus on William Few Parkway.
“A lot of teachers were very sentimental, a lot of them have been here a very long time,” Cummings said.
The year has featured “a culimination of a lot of ‘lasts,’” Cummings said – including the last cafeteria lunch as the lunchroom closed to become the school’s staging area for its move.
The moves now will begin in earnest.
“It’s going to be an interesting summer,” said Bishop, whose office will be the media center at Evans Elementary until the new Evans Elementary building opens nearby.
While staffers are awaiting their new buildings, Nagle is looking forward to being an outsider.
“I’ve been trying to be extremely nice to those two principals (where his grandchildren attend school) so they’ll open their doors and greet me when they see me,” Nagle joked.
He also said he “can’t wait for the first day of school,” so he can call the central office and rub it in that he’s sitting on his porch drinking coffee and reading the paper.
“I’m going to have some enjoyable moments,” he said.