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Ridgecrest prepares for last day, closing for magnet school

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Sixth-grade teacher Laura Elliott, left, asks sixth-grader Sarah Tarver, right, if she should keep a poster as she goes through and packs up her classroom items Wednesday morning at Ridgecrest School.

RIDGECREST — When the final bell at Ridgecrest school rings today at 12:30 p.m., it will dismiss more than just students for summer vacation.

The bell will collectively dismiss 44 years of students, teachers, employees and memories at the school that was designed to be an ultra-modern community school, which focused on reading and math.

Since 1968 when Ridgecrest became Louisiana’s first open-floor-plan school with no walls separating the different classrooms, the school has strived to maintain a close-knit family atmosphere conducive to the student’s learning ability.

But with a declining enrollment over several years and a desire to keep Concordia Parish in the modern age, Ridgecrest will close today and be reopened in August as a magnet school.

A magnet school offers specialized courses and does not rely on school-district lines, but rather can draw students from the entire parish.

The school will be a math, science and technology magnet school, initially, for grades kindergarten to fifth grade.

And while most Ridgecrest teachers support the idea of the magnet school, walking away from a building with so many memories won’t be easy.

Linda Knight began teaching seventh grade at Ridgecrest in 1972 and vividly remembers walking into the building for the first time and seeing the open floor plan.

“I had never seen anything like that, and I still haven’t since,” Knight said. “It was supposed to be the newest concept in education, but I don’t think it worked out very well.

“If someone is doing science over here, then they’re not going to want to watch you teach history over here.”

Kaaren Clifton, a Ferriday native, joined the Ridgecrest staff in 1979 and said she remembers when the school was all the rage around the parish.

“It was such a neighborhood school that everyone was very proud of the school and there was so much more parent involvement,” Clifton said. “It was just a safe harbor because everyone knew everyone.

“The teachers knew the kids, their parents and their background.”

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Fifth-grader Marvin Moore helps move classroom items Wednesday. Thursday is the last day of school before it will open in the fall as a magnet school.

As prime examples of the full circle of the Ridgecrest family, two teachers, Amber Nugent and Bridgett Seals, both attended Ridgecrest through seventh grade and returned to teach there years later.

Both Nugent and Seals were taught by Knight and Clifton during their time at Ridgecrest and said that type of teacher connection will be hard to replace.

“It’s emotional because it’s not going to be the same school,” Seals said. “The building will still be here, but it won’t be Ridgecrest anymore.

“The change is exciting because it means new programs and learning, but it’s also sad.”

With a class full of fifth graders that would have been back at Ridgecrest next year, Nugent said she will be on an emotional rollercoaster today.

“All my students have been writing notes saying they’ll miss me,” Nugent said. “I’m getting worse every day, so (today) I’ll definitely be crying at some point.”

Teacher interviews for the new magnet school were conducted last week and final results are expected to be announced Friday.

A lottery system will select the first wave of students for the 20 slots available per grade level at the magnet school.

Students currently enrolled at Ridgecrest are encouraged to fill out an application to be selected, but if they are not drawn in the lottery they will be sent to Vidalia or Ferriday.

While the decision can’t be made by a note scribbled with colored pencil, one of Nugent’s students said she would try her hardest to get Nugent to come to Vidalia Junior High with her.

“It’s going to be scary going to a new school and being around new people, so I hope Mrs. Nugent can come with us,” said Ridgecrest fifth-grader Rayven Johnson. “I’m going to cry on the last day.”

One Ridgecrest employee has a position secured with the magnet school, but said that won’t make seeing the students leave for the last time any easier.

Ridgecrest Principal Nancy Anders will be director of the future magnet school.

“These are hard working teachers and students, so it’s going to be sad to see them go (today),” Anders said. “I’m very excited to be involved in the magnet school, but it will be sad closing this school.”

With 18 years of experience in Concordia Parish schools, Anders said she is looking forward to working on curriculum changes and knows the magnet school will ultimately be positive for the parish.

“Curriculum is my specialty, so I’ll enjoy getting into the classroom and working with the teachers,” Anders said. “I think this is a great transition and something very positive for Concordia Parish.”