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District reverses decision to divide up books from closed elementary school

Call it a breakdown in communication, or even a change of heart. But last Tuesday, more than a dozen kids from Gales Creek just called it awesome.

For the first time since spring, the library at the youngsters' former elementary school was open for business Oct. 2 during the first of what will become twice-monthly "play nights" at the campus on Northwest Sargent Road.

It took more than a couple of conversations between school district officials and folks in Gales Creek to make that happen, but now those involved are taking a conciliatory and appreciative tone.

“We had 13 students and 39 books checked (out),” said Kate Grandusky, a Forest Grove School Board member and Gales Creek resident who helped other volunteers sort and shelve the books in time for last week’s library re-opening.

“We have been … making the library look much like it did when it was a viable school,” noted Grandusky, a former special education teacher in the district. “Our plan is to have the gym and library available for the children with games, story reading and perhaps a session with knitting down the line.”

Remnants of program

Board members voted last year to close the 152-year-old grade school as part of a massive budget cuts package. After that, parents and community members fought to hang on to remnants of the program — particularly opportunities to connect kids with their peers.

Longtime Gales Creek residents Joyce Sauber and Sharon Boge, as well as parents Corrie Bates and Melinda Fischer, coordinated activities for the children in the school's gym even after the building was shuttered as an elementary school in June 2011.

It now houses the Gales Creek Therapeutic Day School, a program run by the district's special education department for fewer than a dozen middle school and high school students with social and emotional challenges.

The parents, along with Sauber, Boge and Grandusky, also hoped to continue using the school's small library — which contains several hundred books, many donated by families or by the former school's Parent Teacher Organization — this fall.

But they ran into a snag when, in July, district administrators decided to break up the library's collection and distribute pieces of it to other elementary libraries, filling in holes in those schools' collections.

Chief of Staff Connie Potter called it "a re-evaluation of the needs of the district" at the time, and board member Fred Marble said there was no doubt the books belonged to the district.

A 'win-win'

Three weeks ago, however, Grandusky met with Superintendent Yvonne Curtis, and the two had a "clarifying conversation," Curtis said.

"We got clear about the request and how the community really wanted to go about cataloguing and making the books available to kids," she noted, preserving the books for students who still live in Gales Creek but now attend Forest Grove's Dilley Elementary, are home-schooled or have enrolled in online classes in the wake of their school’s closure.

Curtis said that after she’d determined that the books should be moved, she puzzled over who’d have time to actually make that happen. “With our staffing so lean, I thought, ‘We don’t have anyone to do that,’” she said.

But with Grandusky and the others offering to do the heavy lifting, Curtis eventually decided “it wasn’t a high priority to move things out” of the Gales Creek library.

“Kate took the lead on this. It’s a win-win for all of us,” Curtis said. A new book check-out system had to be devised, but that task has been accomplished.

Reinvigorating the libary was a welcome concession to families in a rural town that has lost its post office, its tavern and its only school in the last three years.

For Bates, whose sons attended last week’s library event, it’s a happy ending to a long saga fraught with disappointment. She’s particularly pleased that — as word about the play nights spreads — even more children could gather at their old school.

“At our last play night in June, we had a pizza party and had a turnout of 28 kids, plus parents,” Bates said.

Sauber, too, was all smiles

“Our group of women worked four or five days, shelving and making the library ready for the kids,” she said. “It’s looking really nice.”

Grandusky's return to the library last week meant a walk down memory lane.

“I found autographed books by the authors my children met when they attended (Gales Creek) in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” she said. “It was really a joy to still see the books in good condition and continuing to be used.”

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