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Era Ends in Small Vermont Town: Five Rural Schoolhouses to Close

June 11, 1991

POMFRET, Vt. (AP) _ Kate Ward stood in the dusty, one-room schoolhouse, stuffing students’ papers into boxes and talking of moving in the fall to the sparkling new school down the road.

″I went from 1850 to 1991 in three years of teaching,″ she said with a laugh.

She laughed again as she recalled how she showed up from Albany, N.Y., to interview for her first teaching job two springs ago. She wore matching jewelry, a designer suit and heels. It was mud season and the schoolyard was a quagmire.

Ward said she started to get the hang of it her first day on the job that September when she looked out the window of the North Pomfret School and saw a moose wandering down the dirt road.

She’s done everything from try to get a cranky boiler going in the morning to shoveling snow so her 19 charges could get into school.

″You come in the Liz Claiborne suit and the heels and you adjust,″ she said. ″I’ve had just an incredible experience.″

Now it’s time for another adjustment. Pomfret’s five one- and two-room schoolhouses, among the last 20 in Vermont, closed Monday.

The finishing touches are being put on the new school on the road to neighboring Woodstock. The light gray, low-slung, gabled building will have seven classrooms, a multi-purpose room, administrative offices and rooms for art, music, special education and the nurse. It will have about 100 pupils.

It’s an adjustment for others in town, too. The new school will mean an increase of nearly 20 percent in property taxes.

And those old school buildings, white and austere on the outside, as cluttered and colorful as any classroom on the inside, contain an awful lot of memories.

″You learned from the older kids when they were reciting their classes,″ said David Luce, a state electrical inspector and farmer who started at the South Pomfret School in 1939.

Luce’s class had 32 students, from the first through eighth grade. ″Now if the teachers have 20 kids they think they’ve got a lot,″ he said.

The teachers in those days had no aides or special needs resource educators, just plenty of help from the kids, Luce said. The older boys would take turns in the morning lighting the stove or hauling water from across the road.

Up at the Hewittville School, which looks like a Vermont farmhouse with its metal roofs, second-grader Valerie Pierce hugged teacher Sarah Woodhead goodbye.

″I’m excited to be going but I don’t want to leave here,″ she said.

Woodhead and five-school Principal Lynn McMorris said growing enrollment and the need to meet the state school standards pushed the community to a decision that had been talked about for more than 20 years.

Woodhead said she was looking forward to having her second-graders be able to complete a class project and have someone else to show it off to.

In addition, she said, teachers of music, art, gym, special education and the school nurse will ″be in the school that much more instead of in their cars,″ shuttling from one school to another.

While there was some heated debate about the new school before the decision was made by town voters, most residents said they had gotten used to the idea of a consolidated school.

″Of course there’s nostalgia,″ said Ray Jillson, 66, who started at the South Pomfret School when the newest of the town’s five small schools opened in 1933. ″I’m also quite aware that we’re living in a different age now.″

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