Rural Schools Facing Tough Decisions

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GUTHRIE CENTER- Some Iowa rural school districts are facing changes after Tuesday night’s school board votes.

With the majority vote, the communities of Avoca, Hancock, Shelby and Tennant voted to consolidate with the Walnut School District. Walnut has had one of the worst decreasing enrollments in the state.

For closer districts to the metro, like Adair-Casey, it means the discussion about two-way whole grade sharing is becoming serious.  Two-way whole grade sharing would allow both school districts involved to send students to each district while avoiding consolidation.

“We looked at the projections, and we’ll have another decline in the immediate future. We knew we needed to do something to put the kids and community first,” said Megan Kading, the Adair-Casey School Board President.

Adair-Casey’s district lost 29 students between the 2013-2014 school years and is projected to keep shrinking. Kading says the district has been looking into whole grade sharing for the last couple of years, but now they may have made somewhat of a decision in what’s next.

After research, Adair-Casey has made it apparent they would like to whole grade share with Guthrie Center, 16 miles north of the district’s high school.

Guthrie Center School District isn’t exactly growing either.

“Our district, just like many other rural ones, is facing declining enrollment and that’s less funds for our district,” said Melia Van Meter, Guthrie Center School Board President.

For both districts, joining forces has been an ongoing topic of discussion and something that neither wants to rush into. At this point, nothing is finalized, but it does seem like the choice is inevitable.

“We’re just getting started, need to find out details and tahts going to take time. we’re not pushing or rushing into anything”

The two districts already share 6-8 faculty members, including their superintendent.

“I am trying to understand the needs of two districts and it’s difficult because everyone wants the best for our own kids and all kids to get a good education,” said Superintendent Steve Smith.

Smith has been the superintendent for the last ten years. He’s been trying to make the whole grade sharing experience as easy as possible for students, faculty and the community.

“To pull in the Adair-Casey concept was difficult at first, not knowing where it’s going, but now it feels natural,” said Superintendent Smith.

Both Kading and Van Meter say the transition isn’t completely accepted by everyone, but it’s a subject that they’ll continue to educate people about. 

“I think it’s about educating the community. We can’t go on like this forever, losing students, it does affect the budget, but we have to plan ahead for the future,” said Van Meter.

With shrinking budgets and few choices, Kading says whole grade sharing seems like the best option when looking to the future.

“I think it’s been a challenging journey for our communities, as it is for any district going through this. As a board we try to be diligent and thoughtful but educate ourselves and the community and what are the advantages and benefits for our kids.” 

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