Parents aim to save Landmark School’s year-round program – if not the McHenry building itself

Public hearing set for Monday at McHenry Middle School

The Landmark Community Organization, the McHenry District 15 school's parent-teacher group, met on Monday, April 15, 2024, to discuss upcoming public hearings regarding the school's possible closure.

Parents and teachers at McHenry’s Landmark School are printing yard signs, offering their children poster paper for their own expressions and preparing to make their arguments to save their school and its beloved program.

On Monday night, about 60 parents, grandparents and school staff met at the school to outline initial plans on how to argue their points before the McHenry School District 15 board.

At the school board’s April 9 meeting, members unanimously voted to hold public hearings in advance of possibly closing Landmark School at the end of the 2024-25 school year. The board cited potential renovation costs of $10 million to $15 million to bring the 130-year-old school up to modern standards, including fire sprinklers, an elevator, enlarged gymnasium, mechanical and plumbing upgrades, roof repairs and brick tuck-pointing.

The first hearing is planned for 6 p.m. Monday at McHenry Middle School, 2120 Lincoln Road.

The city of McHenry placed a plaque on the school noting its history in the community in 1994, in recognition of the building's 100th birthday and seen here 30 years later, on Monday, April 15, 2024.

Parents said Monday they were unaware of a discussion about closing the school prior to the April 9 board meeting.

“I remember going to a meeting around (COVID-19) about capital improvements that needed to be made” to schools throughout the elementary district, said Grace McCafferty, co-treasurer of the Landmark Community Organization, the school’s parent-teacher group. What she didn’t hear then, McCafferty said, was the possibility that Landmark School could be closed.

Opened in in 1894, the building was “plaqued” by the McHenry Landmark Commission in 1994 in advance of a 100-year celebration.

It is not just the building. It is the program.”

—  Katie Moore, Landmark Community Organization parent

According to a 1990 Northwest Herald columnist, the school was closed in 1966, and in July 1967, according to a McHenry Plaindealer report, the District 15 board voted to sell the building at auction. Residents petitioned to keep the building, which had served all ages of students over the years. “So strong was voter protests on Landmark that bond referendums seeking $2 million to build a new grade school failed three times – in December 1967, March 1968, and October 1968,” according to the Plaindealer.

A District 15 successful bond referendum in January 1969 stipulated that $2 million would fund a new school and $200,000 would go toward renovation of Landmark School, according to news reports. The building was again used for classrooms, but closed again in 1989, and then reopened the following fall.

Its current configuration – as a “school-of-choice” offering year-round school to students selected via an application and lottery system – has been in place since the early 2000s.

Many people at Monday’s meeting said that while they understand the school building is beloved in McHenry, the programs offered there are what make it special for them.

Parent Katie Moore has a child, now 19, who attended other schools in the district; a son who went to Landmark before transferring to a different program; and an almost-kindergartner planning to attend next fall. Her daughter will get one of the 200 or so slots because her older brother attended there, Moore said.

“It is not just the building. It is the program,” Moore said.

When parents, or students, speak at the public hearings “let’s be productive,” McCafferty said. “Let’s build a case for Landmark.”

For those parents who spoke on Monday night, she asked that they don’t repeat “their whole spiel” as planned for the school board, but offer bullet points and information other parents could use in their appeals.

The parent-teacher organization purchased 125 yard signs, McCafferty said, and asked parents who live in visible locations pick one up.

She also suggested parents use the Freedom of Information Act to request documentation from the district if they cannot find those documents online, to get to the public hearings early and sign in to speak and to “leave the names of other schools” out of their comments.

If parents point fingers at other schools, she said, the district may decide money spent on programs offered at Landmark should instead go to other schools. “Be positive about Landmark, not tearing down other schools,” she said.