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Field Activity Four

Module by: Nancy Leonard. E-mail the author

Summary: Field Activity Four

Introduction

Our school system began the process of consolidating several elementary schools in our county into a reduced number of larger and newly constructed schools. This process became a factor which divided many communities within our larger rural school division. Several different types of meetings were held to address the concerns of citizens within these small communities. The most disastrous meeting and the one that received the most attention was a school board meeting designed to hear public comment on the closing of a small elementary school on the southern end of the county.

The Final Frontier

Our county has successfully closed three smaller county schools. Although there was opposition to the closing of those schools by a small number of residents, the school board waited to close this one particular elementary school until the very last. There were several reasons for this delay. This small school had strong parental support. The parents and the small community lovingly cared for the school building by landscaping, giving money to the PTA, and spending numerous hours volunteering. Many of the grandparents of the children at the school, attended high school in that building, and courted the May Queen, etc. The school building itself, although charming, was inefficient and costly to run. The maintenance staff would often joke that it was the prettiest school in the county because the trees in the school yard bloomed all year long. Of course they went on to say that was because of the heat that poured out of the old school in the winter. The school board also wanted some experience under its belt with closing schools before it tackled the old tobacco money citizens of that part of the county. They were wise to wait.

The School Board Meeting

School board meetings were held which were specific to the schools which were being closed. Leaders in the small community (The Final Frontier) had attended all school board meetings pertaining to the closing of the previous schools. They had listened carefully at all points which were made by the school as to why it was important to close the small schools. Meanwhile, those leaders in the community had organized citizens and planned strategies for combating all points made by the school board. Many meetings had been held in the community and emotions had been stirred by the night of the meeting. The public meeting room was standing room only and many children were in attendance. The meeting started off with a demand for the superintendant to be fired and to use his salary to replace the furnace and blow insulation into the walls of the Final Frontier. Personal attacks were made against school board members, school personnel, or any citizen that did not vehemently oppose the closing of the school. The night ended with children crying and begging the school board not to close their school. The infamous picture of a sobbing red-faced child appeared on the front page of the local newspaper the next day with a headline that read Child Pleads to the School Board-School Closes Anyway.

Conclusion

The formal school board meeting format, although painful to endure in this scenario, was the most appropriate meeting format for this unfortunate situation. The crowd was so emotionally charged that I do not think that a KIVA meeting would have been productive. The crowd was so hostile, I suspect it would have been difficult for the people with differing opinions to be able to sit together at a table with any level of success. It has been seven years since that meeting and very little healing has taken place between the school system and the community.

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