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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 23.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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The end of Lapham school
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Credit:Madison Metropolitan School District

What depressing news to read that Lapham School will be merged out of existence.

I sent two kids through Lapham, and it was single best experience our family has had with the Madison schools.

Lapham's K-2 format was born out of a political compromise that reopened the Depression-era school in 1989 in return for Marquette serving grades 3-5. This turned out to be an inadvertent stroke of educational genius. Separated from the sometimes baleful influence of older kids, Lapham became its own little cozy world, a safe and encouraging place for the youngest of students.

As I wrote in a 2003 column, my kids were lucky enough to have Barb Thompson as principal. She ran a tight ship, kept a watchful eye on her charges and wasn't afraid to battle "downtown" -- the school district administration -- for her school.

With its K-2 structure and the close community of young, supportive parents, Lapham was a true gem of a school. Given its success, I always wondered why the district didn't try more K-2 schools, especially in poorer neighborhoods. I can't think of a more supportive environment to launch kids into their school years.

In 2003, I stopped back at Lapham for kindergarten "graduation." Little had changed since my kids had attended. The auditorium was filled with happy parents and grandparents. Milt McPike, then freshly retired as East High principal, was there, just like in the old days, passing out diplomas and urging parents to stay involved in their children's education.

The solemn-faced kids, "the class of 2015," as Thompson called them, wore purple and gold, the colors of East. The message was clear enough even for a 5-year-old: They would graduate from high school. They were part of a great east-side tradition.

Now Lapham's days are numbered.

The school board, facing excruciating budget pressures, decided it could save a bunch of money by sending Marquette's students to a reconfigured K-5 Lapham next year and using Marquette for alternative programs.

For near-eastsiders, the consolidation is part of a steady roll of bad news about our schools. The "surplussing" of Marquette's veteran teaching staff means they have no assurance of being hired at K-5 Lapham next year -- or at any Madison school, for that matter. Continuity and stability surely will be lost at the new Lapham.

Over at East, principal Alan Harris is like a jet pilot running out of fuel. What can he throw overboard today to keep his plane in the air? Oops, there goes German. What's sacrificed tomorrow?

My youngest is a sophomore. I'm betting that things hold together until she graduates. I have to wonder how many parents with younger kids will reach the opposite conclusion.

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