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Originally published June 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 21, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Rainier View remembered: "It was something unique"

For the Seattle School District, closing five elementary buildings was a matter of dollars and cents. But here at Rainier View, on the southern...

Seattle Times education reporter

For the Seattle School District, closing five elementary buildings was a matter of dollars and cents.

But here at Rainier View, on the southern cusp of the city, teachers and students said goodbye to a community.

About 100 alumni, neighbors, students and parents gathered for a farewell party on Wednesday. The word of the night: "bittersweet."

For many kids, Rainier View was the most stable thing in their lives, a place where everyone knew their name, where Principal Cathy Thompson doled out hugs, where the welcome sign is printed in five languages.

On Friday, the tiny, 46-year-old Rainier View will close for good, and the school will be folded into nearby Emerson Elementary.

That's tough for Dean Donaldson, who said he moved across the street from Rainier View so his two kids could walk to school. Now, they will have to take the bus to Emerson. "It's going to be an adjustment," he said.

Asked what he'll miss about Rainier View, Donaldson's 7-year-old son, Emanuel, replied: "Everything."

Rainier View, along with Viewlands, Fairmount Park and Whitworth elementaries, will merge with other schools next fall. Orca Alternative K-5 is set to move into the Whitworth building. Those schools, too, had goodbye events of their own.

Martin Luther King Elementary closed last year, and its program merged with T.T. Minor.

Teacher Zoé McGuire said Rainier View felt like a big family, and she remains unhappy with the School Board's decision to close it. Academics were improving, she said. There was tight camaraderie among the staff.

"It was something unique," she said. "I want people to know that schools like this are doing really, really good things."

McGuire will not to go to Emerson next year but will take another assignment in the district. Only six of Rainier View's 19 certified teachers are going to Emerson, along with about 170 of the 229 students.

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Rainier View and Emerson are poor and ethnically diverse. Roughly 77 percent of Rainier View students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Twenty-six percent passed the reading, writing and math sections of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning last year.

About 78 percent of kids at Emerson are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and 15 percent passed the WASL.

Rainier View kids have already visited Emerson, and the two schools held a joint field day to get the kids acquainted.

But Thompson said it was important that Rainier View maintain its identity and sense of community throughout the year.

To foster school pride, students wore red Rainier View wrist bands. The older kids wrote transition-themed poetry. Posters in the hallways had messages asking how they felt about the changes, and what they will bring to the new school.

Thompson, who will become principal at Roxhill Elementary in the fall, didn't want the children to see moving boxes around, so teachers and administrators have until Tuesday to pack before the doors are chained shut.

Every computer must be reconfigured, and librarians have been sorting out which books will be merged into the Emerson library and which will become surplus.

District archivist Eleanor Toews has visited each classroom in all the schools that are closing.

She looked for scrapbooks, photographs, plaques and other memorabilia she can place in the 7,000-square-foot warehouse at district headquarters. There wasn't much material at Rainier View, she said. A few photographs; that's about it.

The school's closest brush with fame came when it was mentioned in a 2004 article in Sports Illustrated about basketball stars Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson, who attended Rainier View.

While the mood was festive during Wednesday's celebration, there was sadness as well. In the office, five boxes of tissues were laid out for folks who needed to dry their eyes.

For teacher Katie Handy, that moment will likely come Friday, when the last bell rings.

"We're going to burst into tears," she said.

Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or afryer@seattletimes.com

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