By Terry Brand
I recently attended three of the four listening sessions offered to the community on the plan that the School Board has worked on over the last several months. They were all well-attended sessions and I thank the Board for having the courage to allow citizens to address the board in front of the entire group. People spoke freely and the message was sent – keep a rural presence in whatever plan you develop.
With what was reported at these sessions, it’s apparent the District has a lot of excess classroom space, and that the excess space is in the current middle and high school buildings. The District has not effectively downsized at the same rate that enrollment has declined. This begs the question. Why are they considering closing rural elementary schools when the extra space is in the city? And why consider renovating some of the oldest classroom space in the District, that of the middle school?
It appears they’ve locked themselves into a certain scenario because of the priorities they have established with equity and multi-track schools. Currently, our single-track rural schools are some of the highest performing schools. Large, multi-track schools make sense and are efficient in large metropolitan areas with very dense student populations. However, efficient does not guarantee they will be good. High-density student population is not the case here in northern Wisconsin. There are a lot of elements about neighborhood schools that do work well.
Also mentioned was looking at what other district have done, yet it seems they have not looked just to the west of us to Merrill, where they still maintain two rural elementary schools so they can cut that long bus ride in half for the kids furthest from the city. They are currently considering closing one of their two large, secondary-style buildings.
The past ten years have seen only the rural families endure the pain related to having their neighborhood schools closed – Lily, Aniwa, River Grove, and most recently Mattoon. Never have the families in the city been asked to do the same, even though enrollments have declined in the city at nearly the same rate. In closing these schools and having a large number of students open enroll to other Districts, was any money really saved?
I pose a question that has never been asked. Would the city families be satisfied with closing the three city elementary buildings and developing a multi-track elementary school on the site of the current middle school? If so, move grades 7 and 8 to the High School where there is plenty of room for them and close the three city elementary buildings. If not, close the three-story classroom portion of the middle school. Make the two-story building a Grade 6 academy, preparing students for the transition from the elementary model to the High School model, and move grades 7 and 8 to the High School. This scenario keeps all the rural and city neighborhood elementary buildings open and the only thing that changes for students and families is that grade 7 and 8 kids get dropped off at the high school instead of the middle school.
Just some thoughts that may have not been considered.
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