In the end, they went out as Doyle Park Dragons.
With balloons and flowers, hugs and tears, about 60 students and their teachers left their Sonoma Avenue campus for the last time Thursday. Their departure, which drew nearly two dozen supporters to cheer them on, marked the closing of a 62-year-old neighborhood school overtaken by the era of charters and school choice.
Officially Doyle Park School ceased to exist last summer, when most of the campus became home to the new Santa Rosa French-American Charter School. Those Doyle Park students who chose to return for a final year learned they now were enrolled at a satellite campus of nearby Brook Hill School.
However, the advancement certificates issued to the 14 sixth-graders this week proclaim their school is "Doyle Park," said teacher Bob Grove.
"They were Dragons in their hearts," said Grove, who hugged virtually every student from his fifth-sixth combination class outside the school entrance Thursday.
Doyle Park was born in the midst of the Baby Boom, when Santa Rosa needed several new campuses to accommodate a rapidly growing city. Its death comes at a time when large numbers of residents are choosing to send their children across town to receive an education.
"It was a neighborhood school at a time when we had neighborhood schools," said historian and Press Democrat columnist Gaye LeBaron, whose children attended Doyle Park.
In 1950, the year before Doyle Park was built, Santa Rosa had nearly 18,000 residents. By 1970 the city's population had grown to 50,000.
To accommodate the post-World War II growth, the school district built Proctor Terrace School in the late 1940s and Doyle Park and Steele Lane in the 1950s. Those schools joined such existing campuses as Lincoln, Burbank and Fremont.
Former Santa Rosa councilman John Sawyer attended Doyle Park in the 1960s. In a phone interview Thursday, he recalled the fun of annual carnivals, the pride of being a sixth-grade crossing guard on then two-lane Sonoma Avenue and the long-standing ties he built with classmates.
"I look at my kindergarten photo. It's surprising how many of them I see on a fairly regular basis," said Sawyer, who plans to meet some of those former classmates this summer at their 40th reunion as Montgomery High's Class of 1973.
A school highlight came in 1987 when Doyle Park was named a California Distinguished School under Principal Ellie Lowry.
When the era of charter schools and school choice began nearly two decades ago, Doyle Park had a strong principal in Eileen Resnikoff, as well as test scores that were higher than many other California schools with similar demographics, said school board member Jenni Klose. She appeared there Thursday to honor the students and teachers.
But school choice already was reshaping the city's educational systems. In 2004, the year Resnikoff left Doyle Park, roughly one in seven students from different school districts around the city had transferred from their neighborhood schools. Most of those 4,000 students were fleeing elementary and middle schools from the city's west side, including 10 elementary campuses where the enrollment of white students had dropped 64 percent in a decade.
After Resnikoff's departure, Doyle Park went through a string of principals, Klose said. Within three years the school had lost a quarter of its students, including half of its white enrollment.