School community says farewell to Fillmore

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published June 19, 2015


STERLING HEIGHTS — Not only was it the end of the school year for Fillmore Elementary on June 17, it was the end of an era.

The building closed as an elementary school as Warren Consolidated Schools officials find ways to reduce the district’s budget. At the May 6 Board of Education meeting, the school board voted to merge Fillmore and Black elementary schools. Fillmore students will relocate to Black for the 2015-16 school year. Both schools are located in Sterling Heights. School officials plan to “repurpose” Fillmore.

To say goodbye, Fillmore staff, students and parents gathered on the front lawn in the morning for a closing ceremony that included the release of blue and yellow balloons into the air. School board member Brian White attended the event, as did former Fillmore principals, including Brian Walmsley, now the superintendent for Richmond Community Schools. 

“The balloon launch will visualize our new journey,” Principal Vera Ivezaj said. “I know I’ve only been here a year, but I can truly say it’s been an honor and a privilege.

“Parents, I want to thank you for trusting us with (your children) every day,” she said. “The staff is committed to your kids. ... Staff, I want to thank you ... for doing the very best for our kids. … (To) our fantastic Fillmore students, every day you came to school willing to learn.”

Ivezaj added that students showed “respect, responsibility, an awesome attitude and (their) personal best.” She also thanked the Parent Teacher Organization for their dedication to the school.

The school’s PTO bought all the students T-shirts that read “Fillmore Falcons 1969-2015 soar on” for the balloon launch. The ceremony was emotional for PTO board member Jennifer Yakubesan, whose son just finished the first grade.

“He started here two years ago in kindergarten,” she said. “The community here felt so much like a family. Being on the PTO this year, the other members got along so well.”

Fillmore first opened in 1969. The school — along with Siersma and Holden elementary schools — went year-round during the 2013-14 school year. Year-round students attend the same amount of school days as traditional students, but the year begins in early August and breaks are broken up differently. Black will remain traditional with its next school year starting Sept. 8, one day after Labor Day.

Rebecca Najor-Williams, who was last year’s PTO president, was “sad” to see Fillmore close as an elementary.

“I attended Fillmore in the 1980s,” the 1994 Sterling Heights High School graduate said. “I bought my parents’ house so my kids could attend my school. I did like the year-round school. I was not an advocate to begin with. As they went along, the program worked for our family. The kids liked being able to get a break here and there.”

“I think Black is a fine school, but my heart breaks. This is our home,” Najor-Williams said.

Najor-Williams said she was shocked when she learned that the school would close as an elementary.

“We would have liked a little more notice and a little more time to prepare,” she said.

Fillmore fifth-grade student Dominic Walker felt “kind of sad because I’ve been here since kindergarten.” He said he will begin at Carleton Middle School in the fall.

“It’s sad to see the school closing,” he said. “Every day we came in, we learned, we had fun. The teachers were great. The students were great. The principal was great.”

Parents were notified in the spring of the Fillmore and Black merger. Enrollment at Fillmore decreased from 362 students during the 2008-09 school year to 218 for the 2014-15 school year, according to school officials. The projected cost savings for the merger are expected to save the district a total of $919,800 for the next school year.

“Unfortunately, with the continued catastrophic loss of state funding and the lack of support for traditional public schools combined with declining enrollment, the WCS Board of Education is planning the merger of Fillmore Elementary into Black Elementary for the 2015-16 school year, creating one larger, more efficient K-5 school for students and families,” WCS Superintendent Robert Livernois stated in a letter dated April 22.

While Fillmore is year-round, Black is on the traditional calendar. For families that want to continue with the year-round schedule, school officials will provide current Fillmore students the opportunity for bus transportation daily from Fillmore to Siersma Elementary in Warren. The Fillmore students that stay on the year-round program can only attend Siersma, unless space opens up at Holden and students want to enroll there.

According to district officials, students who qualify for transportation to Fillmore will be picked up at their regular Fillmore bus stop, and then the bus will make one final stop at Fillmore to pick up any Fillmore students who are walkers, Schools of Choice or open enrollment students.