The end of an era

At the end of the school year, Greenwood Lake students will no longer attend Tuxedo’s George F. Baker High School

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  • Photo by Nancy Kriz Gathering at the symbolic "T" rock outside George F. Baker High School in Tuxedo are Greenwood Lake residents Andrew Mahoney, left, Katherine Purdy, Bryan Dalton and Carolyn Rink.

By Nancy Kriz

— It’s only a few more short weeks before the school year ends and the roars of student jubilation will follow.

Except that’s probably not the case at George F. Baker High School in Tuxedo, where the end of the school year marks the end of 30 years during which Greenwood Lake School District students attended that high school.

The story of how the situation ended up here is told in a sidebar found on page 2.

What was important to find out was how this decision would affect the Greenwood Lake students.

Many of those students said they believe they are the collateral damage as a result of both schools boards’ handling of finances, politics, curriculum, contracts and overall policy.

Those same kids are quick to say the move to pull students out of Tuxedo will have a long-term impact on their academic careers as well as their emotional and social well-being.

What follows are the stories of four students:

Andrew Mahoney: ‘I’ve been evicted’

George F. Baker High School junior Andrew Mahoney knows he doesn’t know all the facts about the decision behind Greenwood Lake students no longer going to Baker next year.

Still, he blames both boards for what he says is lack of innovation to find a way to work things out. And he feels larger numbers of people in both communities should have had louder voices.

“The meetings we had here, people should have been lined up outside the door,” he said, with his voice trailing off: “If everyone had come together ... I think there was way more they could have done to make this work.”

Now, with his senior year just months away, Mahoney has finalized his new education path.

His choice? Enroll at Warwick Valley High School but take most classes at Rockland Community College, where “everyone is new,” he said.

“I’ve been going to this school for three years,” he said. “Now, I’ve been evicted. I don’t think what I had here, at Tuxedo, I’ll have there, at Warwick, in a year. Here, it’s like a family. At the end of the day, if I have a problem, I can talk to anyone, anytime. There is no stigma of a large school.”

The worst part - thus far - was the week everyone learned the conversion charter school application would not move ahead.

“One day, I just stayed home,” Mahoney said. “I was just so sad. Everyone was trying to keep their heads up. But we were just so down. My parents, they think this is whole thing is ridiculous. They think they should have found a way to make this work.”

Mahoney’s loyalty to Tuxedo and what he said the school has given him is steadfast.

“And, I don’t like school at all,” he said emphatically. “I literally despise it. But I love coming here. I’d be here, all periods, every day, even after school. I love what I have ... had here.”

Mahoney knows it’s possible many students will do just fine in their new environments.

“Maybe I’m stubborn,” he said. “But I know I won’t find this environment anywhere else. To the kids who feel they will be better elsewhere, they’re missing out on the greatest high school experience.”

As the days wind down, there’s one thing Mahoney knows.

“Everyone in this building, they tried their hardest,” he added. “We can’t say we couldn’t have done more. We all tried our hardest. We’re all going to try to enjoy our last day of high school.”

Katherine Purdy: ‘My senior year is gone’

Junior Katherine Purdy also expressed sadness over the loss of her last year at George F. Baker High School.

There’s also one more thing she’ll be losing out on, too: Being the valedictorian of the Baker Class of 2016.

“My senior year is gone,” she said. “I would have been valedictorian. I would have given that speech at graduation. I would have been captain of the basketball team. But the school boards took that away, that opportunity for me, and other kids, because of a grudge. It’s so ridiculous. I feel like I was robbed.”

Purdy will also attend Rockland Community College next year, where she will take most of her classes, though she has registered with the Chester Academy.

“I know the school (Chester) will accommodate us and make us feel welcome,” she said. “But it’s not the same. It’s not going to be home. I don’t mind if I’m not a part of it.”

Though she’s bittersweet, Purdy is excited to be attending RCC. But she’s disillusioned over the Greenwood Lake board’s inflexibility to allow seniors finish out their high school careers at Tuxedo.

“The junior class could have come back as seniors,” she said. “But the lawsuit was the key. Greenwood Lake was power hungry. We were held as ransom and that’s not fair. Both districts are to blame, but in the end, it was Greenwood Lake who pushed it over the edge.”

Now, she said: “This is a new beginning, but without a finish. My life in Tuxedo hasn’t ended. For my last year, it’s like getting to the last part of the movie and then having to rewind. And you have no choice but to deal with it.”

Her house is filled with emotions, too.

“My dad was pretty angry about it,” Purdy said. “My mom, she said, ‘You have to learn from every situation thrown at you.’ My dad is coming around. But even my little sister, who is always mean to me, she said, ‘I think this is not fair.’”

Purdy said she will feel the loss of Tuxedo tremendously.

“This is really losing something special,” she said. “There’s never going to be another place like Tuxedo. It’s sad this is all going to get lost over a rivalry between boards of education whose interest should be in the children. I think education should be apolitical and I think that got lost.”

Still, Purdy is trying to follow her mother’s advice.

“Life isn’t always going to be fair and you have to make the best of it,” she said calmly. “But no matter what, I’d rather have been here for three years than not at all. I’d rather have this taken away from me than to never have it.”

Bryan Dalton: ‘In my heart, I am always a Tuxedo Tornado’

Sports is a big part of sophomore Bryan Dalton’s school life.

Next year, he will attend the Chester Academy, playing baseball and soccer while wearing the blue and orange colors of the Chester Hambletonians.

Sort of.

“’In my heart, I am always a Tuxedo Tornado,” he said. “I’ve already made a shirt that I’m going to wear under my Chester shirt for all games. It’s a red Tuxedo Tornado shirt.”

Despite the turmoil he said he and his friends feel, Dalton plans to try to have a positive attitude about his new school.

“I’m definitely going to try to keep an open mind,” he said. “There’s no doubt that I adapt to things quickly. But losing my friends here, that’s going to be rough. And I don’t think I will improve as much there as I would here. No school is close to being as great as this school.”

Dalton noted the departure of Greenwood Lake kids is only one portion of the change coming to Tuxedo.

“The split is bigger,” he said. “Some (Tuxedo) kids are going to Burke, Don Bosco, De Paul, Immaculate Heart Academy, even Albertus Magnus. They’re splitting us up. That’s never going to leave my mind. I’m going to be spending these last few days with my close Tuxedo friends. And over the summer, too. We will always be close.”

And at home, his family is also upset.

“My dad, he said he knew this was eventually going to happen,” he said. “My mom, she cares about whatever is best for me, where I will do my best. She asked me about this. I told her Tuxedo is going to be the place where I can do the best.”

He paused, adding: “And then, she just cried. It was definitely very sad.”

Dalton knows Greenwood Lake students have the option to attend Tuxedo by paying tuition, like any other student wanting the small school, STEM academy experience Tuxedo offers.

“My grandpa said he’d give me money to come here,” he said quietly. “But it’s more money than anyone in my family can deal with.”

On the opening day of school, Dalton already has his plan in place.

“For the first day of school, I’m going to be wearing my school colors,” he said. “They are red, white and black. Tuxedo is my high school. I’m not going to consider Chester my high school. This is where I belong. But it was taken away.”

Carolyn Rink: ‘It’s a learning experience I didn’t want to have’

Freshman Carolyn Rink made the choice to attend George F. Baker High School knowing all the financial, political and academic issues swirling around both districts.

Still, she wouldn’t change a thing, despite the unhappiness she now feels over selecting Warwick Valley High School as her new school next year.

“It really is unfortunate, after adjusting to the first year of high school, to have to readjust next year again,” she said. “It’s terrible.”

Already, Rink has attended soccer meetings at Warwick, planning to play for the Wildcats this fall.

The difference is that while she would have played varsity soccer at Tuxedo, she won’t make that team at Warwick.

“I don’t fault anyone at Warwick,” she said. “I do feel like they are doing their best. It will feel weird. I did shadow (one day) with a junior at Warwick. The kids understand. One person told me, ‘This really sucks.’”

Like others, Rink said her parents are also angry over what happened.

“They said both boards should have made the students the first priority,” she said. “I think they (both boards) could have done a deal. But after the dust settled, they wanted me to go to the place where I’d feel the best, where I’d feel most comfortable. I feel like I’ll fit in Warwick more. I have a couple of friends there.”

Rink used the word “ripped” to describe how she feels about changing schools now.

“Yes, it is a short amount of time (at Baker) but it’s been a great time,” she said. “I definitely got more engaged in my classes with the great teachers here. This is a horrible situation but I have to make it as best as possible. It’s a learning experience I didn’t want to have.”

But, Rink stressed knowing what she knows now, if she had to make the decision again she still would have chosen Tuxedo over Chester or Warwick.

“I would still have picked Tuxedo, no question,” she said. “I feel like I really fit in here. I’m so grateful to have had a year here. I feel really bad for the kids who are going to be seniors, though . Even though some people might be upset over being thrown out of here, I’m so glad to have gotten the year I got.”

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