Baby Boomer Lament: Where Did My School Go?

June 23, 2015
Here's what happened in one district to the school facilities that have been closed over the last 40 years

In 1971, about 46.1 million students were enrolled in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools. The post-World War II Baby Boom ended in 1964, and by 1971, nearly all of those kids had entered school. And so began a steady enrollment decline in the nation's classrooms--by 1984, the number of students in public schools had fallen to about 39.2 million.

With 6.9 million fewer bodies filling classrooms, many schools had to shut down. Baby Boomers hoping to take a nostalgic trip through their childhood memories may find their beloved (or not) schoolhouse has vanished--or become a parking lot, a place of worship, a community center, a row of houses, or an empty field.

Here is the fate of the school campuses that closed in just one district.

Since its enrollment peak in 1970, the Shawnee Mission School District, serving the first-tier suburbs on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metropolitan area, has seen its student numbers plummet by 40 percent.

The district had been formed in 1969 when 12 elementary districts in northeast Johnson County, Kan., were forced by the state to unify with the Shawnee Mission High School District, and one year later, it had 45,702 students.

After unification, Shawnee Mission had 54 elementary schools, 10 junior high schools and five high schools. Erasing the boundaries that separated the elementary districts meant that some of those schools were situated in areas where they were no longer needed. The area was seeing population gains from suburban sprawl, but most of that was occurring in districts to the south and west of Shawnee Mission.

Combine those scenarios with the projected dip in enrollment because of the declining birth rate, and the district had to confront its oversupply of classrooms by shuttering facilities.

Between 1975 and 2012, Shawnee Mission closed five junior high or middle schools, and 23 elementary schools as enrollment declined to about 27,500. What happened to those schools after they no longer served as regular schools? Check out the slide show.