The Alta and Aurelia School Boards met in a friendly atmosphere Monday to exchange ideas and "start conversations" about potential possibilities of sharing academics or sports somewhere down the line.
Superintendents Fred Maharry and Tom Vint were present as were administrators, staff members and community people from each district.
It was not unfamiliar territory. Alta and Aurelia have wooed each other at times in the past, but talks were discontinued after multiple sessions hosted by both schools. The two districts shared sports about 10 years ago successfully, but the shared program was later dropped after academic sharing was not realized.
As enrollment declines in small districts (Alta's down 5 students this year, Aurelia 25), less state funding is coming their way.
Both boards are trying to prepare for the future. As difficult as it is to admit, there are troubles ahead. The boards should be commended for taking a look at the situation now rather than waiting until it is too late to do anything.
Alta's president Val Rosenthal welcomed the members of the Aurelia board and Aurelia's president Kirk Nelson "thanked" the Alta board for the invitation to talk.
"We want the best possible education for our kids and want to spend the taxpayer's dollars efficiently," he commented, adding that the talks could lead to "expanding our opportunities and possibly be a savings to our taxpayers."
They first discussed the sharing of professional development (teacher's workshops). Aurelia's Jim Hultgren commented that because the districts are small and have mostly one teacher for each department, if the two districts shared these inservice meetings, it would allow "collaboration and a nice way to bounce ideas around" with each other.
The group had the opportunity to "brag" a little about the programs offered at each of the schools and to compare similarities.
Alta has an FFA program and offer ag classes; Aurelia has in the past sent interested students to Cherokee to take part in these classes and be involved in an FFA program there.
Aurelia has a reading recovery program which they are quite proud of; Alta has taken part in the program in the past but dropped it this year.
Calculus classes are offered to interested Aurelia students through Hawkeye Tech over the ICN; Alta staff teaches the class.
Both schools offer Spanish as a foreign language.
Aurelia students take part in a league of schools program through Western Iowa Tech, offering students the chance to learn vocational-type skills in a variety of areas; Alta students take part in a similar program offered through Iowa Central Community College.
Aurelia offers a DECA program - a business-related extracurricular program. Students have been quite successful in this program, participating on the district, state and even national levels.
Alta, on the other hand, has added a JETS program, which allows students to use math and technology skills. Students last year went on to received state and national honors.
Aurelia students have the opportunity to take part in spelling and math bees; Alta students participate in National History Day.
Both schools are proud of their strong speech departments.
Sports was discussed as well. Superintendent Vint said Aurelia is currently without a junior high wrestling coach. High school wrestlers take part in a program with Galva-Holstein but the young wrestlers from there last year paired up with a Schaller-Crestland team. Vint said there are only about three JH students that have shown an interest in taking part in wrestling and he wondered if there would be a chance that those students could be a part of the Alta team. More discussion will take place as no one knew how quickly a sharing program could get started if both sides agreed to it.
Aurelia plays eight-man football while Alta's numbers still allow them to play 11-man.
The superintendents threw out present enrollment figures and future projections for each of his districts.
Aurelia certified 336 students. The largest high school class has 38 students. The freshman class, middle school classes and elementary classes all average 20 students. From those figures, Vint sees the numbers going down as those students continue their educations at Aurelia.
Superintendent Maharry said Alta certified 606 students and pointed out "healthy" numbers in the high school (50 average), with middle school classes slipping to an average of 40, grades one through four averaging 30-37 and junior kindergarten and kindergarten averaging 20 students each.
"Enrollment is a serious problem as the enrollment declines," pointed out Aurelia's Hultgren.
The audience was present at the meeting to listen; when it came time for question and answer time, only a few simple questions were asked.
"You have some neat programs in your high school and middle school," complimented Hultgren. "We have some interesting things going on in our high school." It was pointed out that having more choices available for the students to pick from is an attraction for those looking for a school for their children.
Kevin Cone of Alta, a former school board member, commented, "I want to commend both boards. I'm a past school board member and we always have kept the communication lines open with Aurelia. We all want what's best for our kids. When they leave high school, do we want them to survive or do we want them to thrive?"
Hultgren pointed out that Aurelia is serious about learning more about programs that students there could be a part of. "We're in a fact-finding mode," he said, adding that discussion may be stirred up between Aurelia and Cherokee. "We feel as a board we need to find out as much information as we can so we can make the best decisions."
President Nelson elaborated. "We can't ignore this or turn our heads. We need to collect all the information we can."
President Rosenthal stated, "I want to thank everyone that took the time to be here. It shows how much our schools mean in our communities. This has been a great start."
Discussions will be held again, with the superintendents doing some homework on several areas.
The board members all felt the idea exchange went well, coming out shaking hands.