ALBANY, N.Y. (June
25, 2009) -- Smiles and tears were in
abundance at Philip Livingston Magnet Academy on June 25, a bittersweet
day mixed with celebrations and sadness as the venerable school produced
its final group of middle school graduates.
Livingston, “the embodiment of the ideals of
beauty and utility” when it opened for nearly 1,400 junior high students
at the start of the 1932-33 school year, is discontinuing its middle
school program due to declining enrollment.
Fifty-eight eighth-graders celebrated their
graduation, the culminating event in a school year in which Livingston
enrolled only about 270 students in grades 6-8.
Though Livingston will continue as the home
to two of the City School District of Albany’s alternative education
programs and the district’s food service headquarters, the June 25
graduation marked the end of an era.
“I’m a little sad, because I’ve been here
for sixth, seventh and eighth grade and now it’s closing,” Terel
Williams said after the ceremony. “A lot of my friends, they thought
that their brothers and sisters were going to come here, too.”
Graduates and their families and friends
focused mostly on the joy of their achievements. Albany County District
Attorney David Soares was the graduation speaker. Among numerous awards
for student achievement, Akeela Makshood was recognized as the
valedictorian and Sanaya Arrington as the salutatorian.
After the ceremony, Shykila Bell admitted
there was a point when “I wanted to cry” as she thought about being a
member of the last class of middle school graduates. But her overriding
feeling was joy, she said.
feels good” to graduate,” Shykila said. “I was happy.”
Teachers and staff were more emotional about
the school’s closing. Livingston's two longest-tenured teachers, Cathy
Corbo and Sandra Smith-Cehowski, both fought back tears at times during
“I grew up in this building,” said Mrs.
Corbo, a family and consumer science teacher who started at the school
in 1978 and also is president of the Albany Public School Teachers
Mrs. Smith-Cehowski was the school’s fourth
art teacher of the 1978-79 school year when she started in October. An
administrator told her she wouldn’t last, either.
On Livingston's last graduation day, the end
of her 30th year, she received the Glen Nichols Award as the
school’s outstanding staff member. Later, she recalled the final day of
her first year, when a colleague advised her to wear a raincoat for her
regular duty supervising the lunch period.
“By the time we were done with lunch I was
covered in mashed potatoes and peas,” she laughed.
Philip Livingston Junior High School opened
in 1932 as a state-of-the-art gem that stood majestically at the city’s
northern gateway. William S. Hackett Junior High School had opened to
similar fanfare five years earlier.
“Because of its great size, impressive
appearance and splendid location, (Livingston) is considered Albany’s
outstanding school building,” according to the 1936 book “Albany Schools
and Colleges Yesterday and Today,” edited by Charles Blessing.
is the embodiment of the ideals of beauty and utility. The designers
omitted nothing that might contribute to the comfort, convenience safety
and health of the student body. It is a triumph of science and art made
possible by the cooperation of educators, architects, engineers and
The school’s first principal, Edward S.
Deevey, served until 1952.
Livingston’s enrollment dwindled somewhat
through the early decades from the 1,392 who attended in the first year.
There were about 900 students at Livingston
when Mrs. Smith-Cehowski and Mrs. Corbo started in 1978, and about the
same number when Principal Thomas Giglio first came to the school as a
student teacher and substitute in 1999.
However, enrollment has declined sharply
this decade, primarily due to the proliferation of charter schools in
The district will have two main middle
schools beginning in 2009-10 – Hackett, and Stephen and Harriet Myers
Middle School. The majority of Livingston’s students will be divided
about equally between those schools.
About a dozen students chose the middle
school program at North Albany Academy, the district’s only school
serving students from prekindergarten through eighth grade.
Livingston families were given their choice preference for middle school
next year. Livingston also will continue to have a half-mile
neighborhood zone allowing families living there to choose their middle
school program in future years.
Seventh-grader Mark Miller plans to attend
Myers next year.
Sitting on the steps outside the school on the last day
of classes June 24, Mark said he will miss friends who will go to
different schools, “and the good times that happened” at Livingston.
“It’s a good school,” he said.
Unruly student behavior, low scores on state
standardized tests and the deteriorating condition of the 800-foot-long,
four-story structure hampered the school earlier this decade.
However, Livingston was removed from the
state’s list of persistently dangerous schools at the start of the
2007-08 school year, and although the middle school program will close
on the state’s list of schools in need of academic improvement, students
have made significant academic progress in recent years.
That includes strong gains on this year’s
math and English language arts state exams. Livingston joined all other
district elementary and middle schools in exceeding every state
Tardiness also was down by nearly one-third
during the 2008-09 school year, Mr. Giglio said.
very proud of the work that my students, staff and community members did
this year,” he said. “I feel very good about the fact that we have given
our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders everything they deserve.”
Like the students, staff members also will
attend different schools in 2009-10.
Mr. Giglio will be the principal at Delaware
Community School. Mrs. Corbo (pictured on the left in the photo)
will teach family and consumer science at
Myers. Mrs. Smith-Cehowski (pictured on the right in the photo)
will teach art at Hackett. Hall monitor
Yolanda Dixon will transfer to Albany High School.
But they all will take with them fond
memories of their time at Livingston.
About 150 current and former Livingston
staff members gathered at The Desmond Hotel and Conference Center on
June 26 to celebrate and share the history and tradition they helped
“We’ve been a family
throughout my years here,” Mrs. Corbo said. “It’s a beautiful building.
It’s a beautiful community.”
School District of Albany serves approximately 8,200 students in 18
elementary, middle and high schools. In addition to neighborhood
schools, the district includes several magnet schools and programs, as
well as other innovative academic opportunities for students. The
district is more than halfway through its comprehensive facilities
project to newly build and/or renovate nearly all of its elementary and
middle schools. The ultimate goal of the facilities project is to
provide schools with the resources to help students succeed in
the 21st century.