The Rockingham County school board is considering closing down Linville-Edom Elementary School, in light of the more than $8 million it would cost to renovate the school. Superintendent Oskar Scheikl says the school’s fate will be decided later this spring. In response, a passionate group of parents, staff, and alumni have organized a campaign to save the little school they love. WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi reports.
If you happen to drive through Rockingham County north of Harrisonburg, you’ll notice little blue yard signs with white letters that say, “Keep LEES Open.” L-E-E-S stands for–
AMY HALOSKEY MARTIN: Linville-Edom Elementary School.
Amy Haloskey Martin, a solo vocalist and lead singer of the band Many Nights Ahead, said she’s seen the signs as far away as Orange County. She’s one of the school’s many alumnae who feel passionately about their alma mater. Martin moved here from Glen Burnie, Maryland in 1999, when she was in first grade. The following year –
MARTIN: My Dad had back surgery and he’s the main provider of our family. And I remember, vividly, one or two teachers just really taking the time to be there for me, and offer and help find any resources needed outside of the classroom for my family at that time.
The importance of that kind of care and support is a common refrain from those who have attended or worked at Linville-Edom. Phil Guengerich taught fifth and sixth grade there from 1970 to 2000.
PHIL GUENGERICH: A wonderful community. Parents supported you. Once I guess I taught a couple years and developed a decent reputation, I felt so much support from the community and the parents. And the students were the highlight of it. They were just, I mean, good kids, hard workers most of them … and that’s what makes Linville-Edom so special, I’m sure to this day.
Guengerich, or Mr. G to his former students, focused on making education and rewards attainable for all his students, no matter what their strengths were.
GUENGERICH: I found I got a lot more with honey than I did with vinegar. And so one six-week period I did a promotion where they earned so many stamps. Being from Iowa, I had a Hawkeye stamper. You earn ten Hawkeyes and we stayed after school to play street hockey in the gym, and then come to my house for supper. And they could get one for perfect attendance … running the cross-country course … good behavior … grades, so I tried to make it possible for any student to do that.
Prior to 1952, Linville-Edom was a consolidated school, with students through high school. Eldon Layman, president of the Linville-Edom Alumni Association, was among the last few classes to receive a high school diploma from Linville-Edom.
ELDON LAYMAN: Because we were a small school, a small class of 30 people, you were closer … I think the people really stick together, that they support each other.
Layman worked in the school office for a few years after graduating in 1950, before joining the Navy. In 1955, he married his high school sweetheart from Linville-Edom, Bettie. Bettie had been a foster child, and ended up living with Layman’s uncle’s family.
LAYMAN: So that’s exactly where we met. Bettie then was a freshman at Linville-Edom the year I was a senior. Actually, we all went to the same church then … so then we started to date, and eventually were engaged.
Bettie Layman was in the first class of Linville-Edom students to graduate from Broadway High School. The Laymans now live in Broadway, and Eldon organizes alumni gatherings in Harrisonburg every other month; 20 to 30 people typically attend.
LAYMAN: And we just get together and have a big old time remembering what happened when, and tricks we pulled and so forth.
Both Layman and Martin throw out memories and names of their teachers and classmates as if they had attended Linville-Edom only yesterday – like former gym teacher Sherwin Tusing.
MARTIN: I’m sure everybody, when you hear ‘Linville-Edom,’ you think of Mr. Tusing, the gym teacher. He was a die-hard Beach Boys fan, and that was what we listened to every class all class … And I remember he would always sing, as we lined up, I guess, maybe it was because kids were whining, he’d sing ‘it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to!’ and I hadn’t even known what that song was … it opened my music library a bit further at such a young age to hear, you know, real music. And he would tell us about the music and who was singing it and what album it was on and stuff like that.
If the school does close, most of the students will be reassigned to Lacey Spring Elementary School. Some may go to John C. Myers or Mountain View as well – Superintendent Scheikl says that the district is considering a comprehensive redistricting for the county’s elementary schools in the summer of 2021.
Guengerich is sympathetic of the financial burden that renovations would put on the school district, but he’d be sad to see a tight-knit community separated into different elementary schools.
GUENGERICH: The real dream, which I’m sure probably won’t happen, would be to build a new school there and keep a small school. Maybe it’s time to think about, perhaps there’s something special about small schools.
LAYMAN: I really don’t think that bigger is better.
The most significant benefits of attending a smaller school, Martin says, may not be tangible.
MARTIN: I feel like Linville-Edom … has a lot of story. And I think that maybe that story shouldn’t go unaccounted for, even though it may not have a monetary value attached to it. You know, there might not be a data set to this kind of thing, but … that’s why the signs are out. It’s the story of Linville-Edom.