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Published: Sunday, 6/4/2006

In a class by himself: School bids farewell to lone senior, longtime teacher

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Chris Petri, with 15-year-old Marie Mowrey in the foreground, gets down to business during a study hall. Chris Petri, with 15-year-old Marie Mowrey in the foreground, gets down to business during a study hall.
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KELLEYS ISLAND, Ohio - Chris Petri participated in the high school rites of spring yesterday, graduating from Kelleys Island School after 12 years.

But unlike his peers in schools elsewhere, Kelleys Island's Class of 2006 consisted of just Chris.

The island school generally graduates one student each spring, a feat that allows the school to fit the graduate's name neatly on its sign facing Division Street, with room to spare to list upcoming activities.

Last year's class of 2005 also consisted of a single student. Dave Oblinger is expected to be the class of 2007.

Despite being the only member of his class, Chris says he never felt alone.

"You get close to everyone here," said Chris, 17, who plans to attend the University of Alabama in the fall to study communications.

The commencement marked another significant departure. Pat Seeholzer retired after teaching 40 years there, including her own five children.

"We taught everyone here," she said, pausing from packing her four-decade career into plastic crates and boxes in a classroom that once served as the library. "We see them grow from the time they're in kindergarten."

Pat Seeholzer, who is retiring, officiates a kickball game in the gym. Pat Seeholzer, who is retiring, officiates a kickball game in the gym.
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It's not hard to keep track of students' progress. With a permanent village population of just 367, according to the 2000 Census, small enrollment is a given.

This year's enrollment, kindergarten through the 12th grade, numbered 24.

Phil Thiede, superintendent and school principal, says that is about average.

Year-round employment is scarce, as are young families. Home prices on the resort island scare away young, potential newcomers.

"There's really no such thing as a starter home here," Mr. Thiede said.

Mrs. Seeholzer, 72, says class sizes weren't always that small.

Up through the mid-1970s, until one of the island quarries closed and unemployed residents left for the mainland, student populations numbered around 50.

Small class sizes and the isolation imposed by Lake Erie can be beneficial.

"There's not as many distractions," says Chris, whose brother, Steve, is a graduate of Kelleys Island. "Sometimes you get so bored you don't know what to do."

The upper-class students do get off the island. Each year the school sponsors three field trips to Boston, Washington, and Williamsburg, Va.

Not bad for a school that only recently built its first gymnasium and lunchroom.

The original island school, a two-story, red brick structure, was built in 1902 when the estate of James Estes donated $15,000 for its construction.

In 1999, a year after voters approved the island's first bond issue, the district opened a $1.4 million addition that included a gym, library, kitchen, and classrooms.

The student body at that time consisted of 34 students.

The gym, which doubles as a multipurpose room, and the library have separate entrances for public access.

According to the Ohio Department of Education, Kelleys Island spends $32,830 to educate each student, well above the state average of $9,052 during 2005, the last year the data were available.

Kelleys Island students do well on the state proficiency tests, Mrs. Seeholzer said, with almost all of them passing them on the first try.

"It proves the point where, the smaller the classes, the more you can accomplish," Mr. Thiede said.

Juniors and seniors are encouraged to take vocational courses at EHOVE Career Center in Milan, Ohio, or college-level courses on the mainland.

The students take the ferry or the plane during winter, which costs the district about $100,000 a year, said Mr. Thiede, a retired administrator who works part time for the school.

This year, Kelleys Island sent seven students to the mainland each day.

On nearby South Bass Island, the school in Put-in-Bay educated 87 students this year. The Middle Bass School sent five students to Put-in-Bay for classes, and North Bass sent two students there, said Jim Stauffer, Put-in-Bay's superintendent and principal.

Put-in-Bay, which has 17 teachers, graduated four seniors this spring.

The full-time teaching staff at Kelleys Island can be counted on one hand.

In addition, the district employs retired educators from the mainland who travel to the island twice a week. They include a guidance counselor, art teacher, curriculum director, and a pair of enrichment teachers who "work with students who need to be challenged," Mr. Thiede said.

Mrs. Seeholzer's departure leaves the full-time staff at four, although Mr. Thiede said she will be replaced.

Her retirement will leave time for travel and for sports, she says while refereeing a kickball game in the spacious gym between classes.

Mrs. Seeholzer lists ice fishing, riding a Jet Ski, and boating among her active sports interests, which she hopes to do more of in retirement.

"Seventy-two is 72. I'm going to go and do my things now," she said, adding, "I'll miss it."

Contact Jim Sielicki at: jsielicki@theblade.com or 419-724-6078.



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