John Kerr ‘family’ celebrates 40 years in current home
Posted: February 23, 2013
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — When John Kerr Elementary School opened in August 1972, desks and chairs were not yet available and everyone had to sit on the floor.
It also had no interior walls — a trend of the times known as the open-classroom concept that promoted a group of students in a single, large classroom with several teachers overseeing them.
“In a non-traditional setting, we developed into a traditional family,” said Pat Konschak, who started teaching the fourth grade at John Kerr in 1973.
On Friday, the school, now fully equipped with furniture and still implementing its open-classroom concept, celebrated its 40th anniversary at 536 Jefferson St.
Current and retired school officials, teachers and staff members discussed their memories of John Kerr, and dinner was served to the beat of the school’s Orff Ensemble. Money raised at the event will be used in the school’s music department.
Former student Polly Nelson, 38, remembered arriving at the shiny, modern school in 1979 and wondering how she was going to find her way around the interior “labyrinth.”
She told the more than 100 people at Friday’s event that certain signals reveal that a student attended John Kerr during the 1980s — if they remember the rainbows painted on the windows in memory of teacher Sandra Riggleman, who died of leukemia; the field days; the librarian Mrs. Fitzgerald; the jungle (wooded area behind the school); and the year the students voted for the cardinal as the school mascot (instead of the stars, jets, and kitty cats).
“Being a cardinal for me and others was truly an idyllic experience,” she said.
Nelson also said that when John Kerr graduates marry and eventually move back to Winchester, they “secretly remove all houses from the running that aren’t near John Kerr.”
The original John Kerr, named after a Winchester education benefactor and cabinet maker, opened in 1883 at Cameron and Cork streets and was the first public school in Winchester, serving children in all 12 grades.
The building was renovated about three decades ago and is now used by Shenandoah University.
In 1972, the “new” 46,613-square-foot building opened at its present site on Jefferson Street.
Bill Lawrence, vice-chairman of the city School Board in 1972, remembered silently moaning when he heard that building the new school would result in chopping down many trees.
“Now there are talks about building a new school someplace else,” he told the crowd. “I hope not. This is a neighborhood school.”
Lawrence added that he was “darned proud to be a part of the concept and dream for Winchester.”
Dee Bauserman, a fourth-grade teacher from 1973 to 1987, said many of the families at first didn’t like the school’s layout.
“The open concept was not popular among some parents,” she said. “They liked the more traditional classrooms.”
George Craig, principal from 1994 to 2000, complimented the staff “that never wavered in keeping every child’s best interest at heart.”
“That is where their treasure lay,” he said.
Anita Jenkins, principal from 2000 to 2012, remembered the first principal, Ray Chapman, her love for the children and her memories in the current building.
“The specialness of this site will always be in the children’s memories and especially that of the staff,” she said.
Despite the celebration, the 40-year-old building is in need of a new roof and is over capacity.
As of October, John Kerr had an enrollment of 358; its capacity is 304.
Officials are optimistic that a new school can be built and ready for classes by the summer of 2016.
Talks are under way about the size of the school (400 capacity or 650); the future of the current building; the route the school division will take in overcoming a $6 million shortfall (the project would cost about $26 million, but the City Council said it would provide $20 million); and the location (at its current site or off Amherst Street).
On Friday, Robbie Molden, 46, visited John Kerr at the request of his young daughter Maelyn, who wanted to see where her father attended school.
“It’s the same,” he said.
His favorite memories: the staff and serving as a third-grade crossing guard.
“Just being able to get up early,” he said. ‘Tha t’s what I liked.”
— Contact Rebecca Layne at firstname.lastname@example.org