Families gather at schools to remember with eye on the future

by Martin McConnell

Chippewa, Highland Drive, and Hilton Elementary Schools offered former students and staff alike one last walk down memory lane at their final open houses on June 25.

The open houses were a celebration of the three schools, with each building getting a few hours in the spotlight throughout the day. Both students and staff remarked that outside of the minor differences, not much has changed in any of the three buildings.

“Nobody is really good with change, because this is a huge change,” former Highland Drive principal Eva O’Mara said. “I… love change, especially when it’s so beautifully handled. The building that they are going into is fabulous.”

The schools are closing their doors to make way for the new Brecksville Broadview-Heights Elementary School in the fall. The new building will consolidate the three elementary schools and will be available for students through pre-kindergarten to fifth grade.

“It’s funny, peeking in the windows, making a lap around here, remembering who was who and who sat where, and looking at old yearbook pictures,” former Chippewa student John Soberay said. “A lot of good memories, and a lot of ‘Wow! What happened to that person?’”

For Chippewa principal Tina McCauley, the change represents just one more in a series of changes. McCauley only joined Chippewa as the principal this past school year and is looking forward to getting to know yet another building and yet another group of students.

“I will be the principal [for first through third grade] at the new building,” McCauley said. “There’s four of us at the new building because there’s 1,500-1,800 kids in that school, where this school had 450 this year.”

McCauley said she is excited for the opportunities that the new school will bring. Despite the challenges ahead, the hardest part of the transition seems to already be over.

“It’s exciting, but it was a challenge in the fact that my staff here at Chippewa had things in anticipation of the new building,” McCauley said. “But I was new, so I didn’t know the old ways… I only knew the way we were setting up things.”

While McCauley has only been around the Brecksville school district for this past year, some families have sent multiple generations of students through the three schools.

The Carouse family has put three generations of students through Highland Drive Elementary, starting with former Brecksville city councilman Lou Carouse in 1959.

“I had the opportunity to be in here when my two daughters attended this school, and then when my three grandsons attended this school,” Carouse said. “We’ve had opportunities of being here through the three different generations, and see the changes as they’ve come.”

Carouse and his family are inseparable from the DNA of Highland Drive Elementary. Lou Carouse’s time at the school presents likely the most drastic change throughout the district’s lifetime: the curriculum.

“I remember I cut my thumb with a saw,” Carouse said. “We were sawing wood in kindergarten. I could get a bigger scratch from the dog… Stuff like that was okay to do.”

Although such big changes can be intimidating for both students and faculty, the overwhelming feeling is one of excitement and hope for the future. A wall at Hilton Elementary is filled with collages of photos from the past few years, and all three schools had old yearbooks on display.

“I love working with the students,” Christopher Hartland, who will be the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten principal at the new school, said. “The bond, and the time that we’ve had together, and being able to see that little bit of help and that spark that you provided in the children as they’re growing up.” ∞