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Tears fill final day at Liliuokalani Elementary

  • DENNIS ODA
    Liliuokalani Elementary School held an End of Year Awards and Aloha ceremony Thursday as the school closed for the last time after 99 years. Above, fifth-grade students gave a cheer to some of the staff who were honored during the ceremony. Counselor Blythe Ng watched as Principal Raelene Chock was given a lei by Wendy Honda, parent community network coordinator, below left. Tammy Sagayaga hugged son Jayeden as they were about to leave his classroom for the last time, at right. Dennis Oda / doda@staradvertiser.com
  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Students sang “Aloha ‘Oe” for the last time in the cafeteria of Liliuokalani Elementary School on Thursday, the final day for the school, which is being closed.
  • DENNIS ODA
    Tammy Sagayaga hugged son Jayeden as they were about to leave his classroom for the last time.
  • DENNIS ODA
    Counselor Blythe Ng watched as Principal Raelene Chock was given a lei by Wendy Honda, parent community network coordinator.
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One year shy of what would have been its centennial anniversary, Queen Liliuokalani Elementary held its final day of classes ever, with teachers, parents and students gathering for a tearful send-off to mark the end of another school year while mourning the closing of their beloved school.

At an assembly in the Kaimuki school’s cafeteria Thursday, the last-ever awards for citizenship and most improved students were given out, the last-ever QLS basketball team was told their purple jerseys would be retired, the last-ever fifth-grade class celebrated its graduation and Liliuokalani’s last-ever principal, Raelene Chock, addressed students, telling them to "remember where you came from. Always remember QLS."

The Board of Education voted in March to shutter the school with 97 students as part of a plan to save about $530,000 in the coming fiscal year. The school had for years been in danger of closing because of its tiny enrollment.

Scores of parents and alumni opposed the closing, saying the school offered individualized attention for students and could boost its enrollment with the right support and more time.

The Department of Education has not yet firmed up its plans for the property, but will likely use the campus for DOE offices. Moving staff to Liliuokalani from offices at Dole Cannery could save as much as $740,000 a year, said Randy Moore, assistant superintendent for facilities and support services.

No public charter schools have formally expressed interest in moving to the campus.

The decision to close Liliuokalani is part of a statewide review of small schools. So far, the state has closed three schools to save money but spared eight others.

Teacher Pualani Wilmington said Thursday it was tough to grasp that the school was not just closing for the summer.

"It’s surreal," she said.

Wilmington, who has been at Liliuokalani for 18 years, will move to Kalihi Waena Elementary in the fall.

At the assembly, Wilmington told students through tears that though the school will close, each one of them will take a little piece of QLS with them in their hearts.

"Remember you are from the queen’s school," she said.

Liliuokalani, established in 1912, was dedicated by the queen herself. That should have been reason enough to keep the school open, said parent Jimmy Chun, who has two daughters at Liliuokalani.

"There’s a place for historic preservation," said Chun as he stood watching the assembly. The school "is very special."

In the upcoming school year, his daughters will attend Liholiho Elementary.

Liliuokalani parents were given the choice of sending their children to any school in the Kalani complex, and most opted for Liholiho or Waialae elementary school.

Aulani Malabey, whose daughter attended kindergarten at Liliuokalani, is still looking for the right campus, though. She said the Kaimuki school will be hard to top. Malabey also attended Liliuokalani. "My daughter likes the school. She wants to stay," she said as she prepared to snap photos at the assembly.

During the gathering, Liliuokalani’s 15 fifth-graders were given lei and hugs from the principal, and student leaders were recognized and asked to speak briefly.

When the microphone was handed to student body Vice President Ryan Leon Bracamontes, he addressed his classmates: "I hope you achieve your hopes and aspirations," he said. And never forget, "Once you’re a QLS student, you’re always a QLS student."

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