Fresh look at regional school

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Where to put the high school?

The regional school concept is still being mulled around by four area districts and after a quiet summer, discussions will resume full force as the school year begins.

Superintendents of the four schools that have been discussing the possibility of sharing a school - Albert City-Truesdale, Laurens-Marathon, Pocahontas Area and Newell-Fonda - will meet September 5.

Pocahontas Superintendent Joe Kramer pointed out that two of the districts have new superintendents - L-M and N-F - from when the talks first began over a year ago. Each of the districts could have new board members after the Sept. 11 election. New views and ideas could change the nature of the discussions.

There is no crystal ball to predict the outcome, the districts' leaders say - but the root factors behind the talks - decreasing enrollments and state funds - have not changed.

The eventual decisions will affect many families, possibly for generations to come, and trading in the individual high schools for one large campus is a decision that can't be rushed, they feel.

"There is no way to anticipate what will come out of this," said Superintendent Kramer.

When talks of the regional school first began, Pomeroy-Palmer district was interested in being a part of the plan; they have since dropped out. Others could join or leave the discussions. Kramer said board members in his district are looking at other options to serve the students if the regional school idea collapses.

Superintendent Jeff Dicks, of Newell-Fonda, is fairly new to the discussions, but said his district also is keeping its options open.

If the four schools feel positive about moving ahead within the next couple of meetings, Kramer said, citizen study committees will be formed in the towns, and the first of many public meetings will begin.

One of the most important decisions, of course, would be, where to locate such a regional school. Information provided by Guy Ghan, a consultant hired by the districts last school year, determined that the best spot would be along Highway 3. This could be one of the more arguable decisions if the talks progress.

Ghan described the regional school as "a commonly shared high school with each district maintaining its separate identity in grade kindergarten through eighth grade. The shared high school would replace the district high school's identity."

He added in his final report prepared for the four districts "the importance of a regional school is merely a large-scale of whole-grade sharing or reorganization."

One of the arguments for a larger school could be the increased number of academic options for the students. But Ghan questions, "Is bigger, better?"

"It's true that a larger school can offer more; it is easier for larger high schools to meet the standards and are able to go beyond the basics and provide enrichment. But is that better? Small districts are often happy, friendly family schools where everyone knows everyone and there are opportunities for individual attention."

Ghan added how difficult of a decision it is for school board members to make and he cautioned the school board members.

"Decisions need to be made based on information, thorough study and careful deliberations."

Superintendent Kramer agrees.

"Something of this scale has not been done in the state and we aren't going to move fast; it's going to take a lot of time."

He added that right now, all four of the districts "have the opportunity to make decisions" and have the "luxury" of being able to take time. None of the districts are in dire need of making quick decisions for at this point finances are holding their own.

"This a good place for the boards to be," he said, adding that the districts are at this point being "proactive and are not being pushed up against the wall" to get something done.

All of the boards should be commended for taking up the task of talking and finding out as much as they can about not only the regional school concept but looking at other ideas that could benefit their students.

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