October 25, 2021

‘Smile because it happened’

Community event set for April 25 to commemorate Parker Elementary

Joe McIntyre/file photo

Parker Elementary School in Cortland. File photo.

A night of commemoration for community members and past and present staff and alumni of Parker Elementary School in Cortland is planned for April 25.

The 90-year-old school, which along with Virgil Elementary School, closes in July as a money-saving move by the Cortland City School District, is going to mark its final year with an evening of celebration and a short play, said Principal Katie Swanson.

The play, entitled “Alton B. Parker: The Play,” was the brainchild of past principal Kevin Yard.

Yard approached Bill Lee 15 years ago for help writing the play, said Lee, who ended up directing it.

Lee, a parent of two Parker Elementary School alumni, said the play is about former Mayor Marty Mack researching the life of Alton B. Parker. The school’s namesake, Parker was born in Cortland and later became a lawyer and then a judge but is most famous for challenging —and losing to — President Theodore Roosevelt in the election of 1904.

“We produced the play at Parker then took it on the road to the Parker museum up near New Paltz,” Lee said.

Lee plans to have alumni and past teachers reading the various parts, all 21 of them.

Swanson said the idea of the event is to honor everyone who has been part of Parker Elementary School over the years.

“It’s been a cornerstone of the community for a long time,” she said.

The district projected saving about $600,000 in staff costs by closing Virgil and about $800,000 in staff costs by closing Parker. Closure also avoids paying about $5 million in repairs over the next five years for Parker and about $1.2 million in repairs at Virgil, according to district administrators.

But the move was not without controversy and a school transition team was formed last year to help make the move to three elementary schools from five easier. Swanson said the evening of celebration was one such suggestion.

The building will be open 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The first hour will be an open house, said Swanson, with people walking around and staff and school council students answering questions.

“People are allowed to look around, everybody’s memories are different in terms of where classrooms were and things like that,” Swanson said.

Desserts will be offered at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium, when the play will be presented, she said.

Lee said the event will be bittersweet.

“It’s like that Dr. Seuss saying, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,’” he said.