Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Schools revolution

The discussions taking place in local school board rooms are going to change the whole ballgame for perhaps 50 years or more to come. It's nothing short of a revolution in Buena Vista County schooling.

* Storm Lake, of course, will look to leave behind the neighborhood schooling model that has served for a century in favor of a single modern elementary. The neighborhood schools were close, intimate and uncrowded. The single school is a big step forward, and yet we have to work to maintain the best parts of the "small" as well - individual attention and family involvement. The challenge will be to become big without somehow losing a single little one between the cracks along the way. It will change the community forever.

* Just down Highway 7 West, it seems possible that at long last uneasy neighbors Alta and Aurelia could go ahead with a whole grade sharing that has been cussed and discussed for as long as I can remember. It would be a vast change for the communities, and to their credit, is seems as if residents and leaders are going into the discussion with open minds and open eyes.

As usual, I suspect that as hard as it can be for adults to come together, if given the chance, the kids will show us how it can be done - just as they did several years back in sharing sports smoothly and happily while boards tussled.

The two districts are as natural a pair of partners as you will find, and together they can form a viable district for many years, without either being swallowed by a large district and losing their identity.

* And finally, Newell-Fonda, Albert City-Truesdale, Sioux Central and Laurens-Marathon are among the area districts looking into the concept of building a large regional high school.

Talk about your revolution. Not long ago, it would have seemed unimaginable for such districts to talk about giving up their high school in their own towns to create a megaschool.

Some time back, when a new Sioux Central campus was on the horizon as well as a new middle school project in Storm Lake, this newspaper suggested that it would have been a good time to discuss the idea of reorganizing into two public districts in the county - a north one in the Sioux Rapids-Albert City region and a south one in Storm Lake to also accommodate Alta and Newell.

People laughed. Such consolidation could never happen, they said. "Radical," I believe, was the term used.

However, the handwriting is now on the chalkboard, so to speak. Rural enrollments are going down, with no end in sight, and funding goes down with it. At the same time, students need more specialized instruction and more arts and more activities. Schools face more costs, more teacher/administrator shortages, more technological needs, more regulation.

Everybody in these districts, reluctant as they may be to take such action, should stand up and applaud their superintendents and boards for having the foresight to look into a project that stands to change everything - just because it may very well be the best possible thing they can do for the future of their communities' children.

Imagine what could be half a decade from now - a new elementary system in Storm Lake to go with the burgeoning charter school at the high school level, while Alta and Aurelia form a new district in the west, and the other towns to the north and east possibly united in a 500-1,000-student regional high school. Basically two-and-a-half public high schools in the county. (Who knows, perhaps a combined parochial high school as well?)

Only time will tell if it will all come to pass. We are doing the right thing to think about the possibilities while the choices are still ours to make. If we were to do nothing, within a decade, we are going to have districts in real trouble.

Speaking of schools, I'm always interested to note those photos of the new teachers for each district about this time every year. Normally you get a herd of fresh-faced twentysomethings plugging holes left by gleeful retirees. (And at the bottom rung of the salary step scale!) At my advanced age, it sometimes seems as if it's hard to tell the teacher from the students anymore. A few of these shiny yearlings no doubt will become your exceptional local career educators for the next 30 years, but the attrition rate also tends to be fairly high for new grads in rural Iowa.

St. Mary's seems to have taken a different approach with its neophyte staffers for this year, however. Some of those folks have some mileage on them - full careers in other area school districts, or non-traditional education. It's kind of refreshing. Ahhh... to be younger than the NEW TEACHERS - priceless!

There is a lot of talent to be tapped for classrooms, and it isn't all from Generation Y...

I would guess that the ideal would be a mix - youthful enthusiasm and experienced wisdom - each group rubbing off a bit on the other. Sharing new ideas fresh from the campuses, and mentoring with time-tested techniques. I think the schools in this area have made an effort to grasp that generational diversity.

So, whether fresh off the Clearasil or a bit on the grizzled side, best of luck to all of our teachers this fall. The hopes for our future are in your hands - be they smooth or a bit wrinkled.