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Back to Communications Home

The end of an era

for Philip Livingston Magnet Academy

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.


“It 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 the day.


“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 Association.


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.


“It 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 landscape artists.”


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 Albany.


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.


All 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 benchmark.


Tardiness also was down by nearly one-third during the 2008-09 school year, Mr. Giglio said.


“I’m 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 shape.


“We’ve been a family throughout my years here,” Mrs. Corbo said. “It’s a beautiful building. It’s a beautiful community.”


The City 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.


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