Roland Buchman: A Letter to the Community and the School Board Concerning the Proposed School Closings

Marine, Withrow and Oak Park elementary schools have been proposed for closing. The three “top-scoring” elementary schools in the District, rather than being emulated are being considered for elimination. Get your attention? It has mine.

Unexpected. Yes! Why? Well, just over a year ago, the larger Stillwater community was assured that there wouldn’t be any school closings, “none,” in the supporting material for the $97,500,000 bond referendum set for  public vote. The referendum passed with some of the money having been set for those three schools. This school closing proposal is contrary to the referendum promise.

To carry the discussion further, contrast two concepts of an elementary school in a small community, the “school within the community” versus the “community school”. With the “school within the community” emphasis, the planning is done primarily by the administration, giving superficial attention to community benefits and community planning. The school becomes a pawn in the hands of the administration and board in any move to get the student desks filled under the guise of equity and economy; students are numbers.

The “community school” approach recognizes community culture and benefits and their effect on student achievement. The vitality of the community is of primary concern. Furthermore, this culture can’t be transported with each student to the new environment.

Read Lindsay Nelson’s report on the StopBoldCold website for background on the effects of closing small schools.

Consider changing the perspective with the goal now being to expand the benefits of the three top performing schools, moving away from their elimination. School boundary changes, coming soon, could draw more students to these schools. This approach would also provide the benefit of retaining school space in the north rural areas where new students will appear, faster if the environment is welcoming, and would postpone future boundary changes. The high performing schools would be rewarded; community vitality would be supported.

An anomaly. All three schools report great “in” and “out” student movement in spite of each school’s high performance. What are the factors behind this? How can each school and community  draw more and retain more? Analysis of this movement, present with the other schools as well, is needed.

Finally, Oak Park could become a magnet school. Consider an ELC magnet designation, featuring environmental and elementary education, drawing teacher interns and nearby college and university support and more district student enrollment. What other possibilities are out there?

I encourage more thought and expanded analysis before action. Maintain the school-community vitality that we have treasured for many years.

Stay true to your referendum pledge.

Roland “Bud” Buchman, Stillwater

District School Board member, 1976 – 2008.