The headlines have been the same in nearly every small school in
the state: declining enrollment and budget cuts.
It has been a nearly constant problem with which community after community has wrestled. And so far, the answers haven't been easy. Pairing and
sharing. Open enrollment. Classes on interactive television. Another
And the relentless coffee shop talk that any of the "too-small" schools could close at any time and folks in that town should wise up and bring their kids to our town, the bigger small town, so it's easier for the kids.
And as we all know, once your school closes, part of the community
identity is lost. The town can't gather as one for a football game or band concert or graduation. You don't have your town's name on the
lettermen's jackets. The building loses something when it isn't buzzing with young people and the act of learning. The local school serves as the social, recreational and cultural foundation of the community. Above and beyond that, schools provide jobs, a precious commodity in any size community.
Complicating the whole issue is the fact that there are no "bad" schools in this area. Wuite the contrary. The schools and the people who work in them are something to be proud of. Area newspapers
frequently have stories about the local kids who have done well as adults. And that doesn't happen when they have been poorly prepared for the world.
Smaller schools do not mean lower standards. In 1996, Kathleen Cotton, a research specialist with the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, reviewed the results of over 100 studies on school size. "tudent achievement in smallschools is at least equal and often superior to achievement in large schools," she concluded. In addition, a large body of research in the affective and social realms overwhelmingly affirms the superiority of small schools.
At first glance, the answer is fairly simply. We need more students and more money in order to keep all of our local schools open. But as my parents repeatedly told me (and I recently caught myself telling my son), money doesn't grow on trees. Neither do children. So, the answer might be a little harder than that.
But here's what the discussion should be about: individual communities coming up with their own solutions without interference from St. Paul. This should not be about closing one school so another can stay open.
Imagine if the state Legislature offered incentives to close the Catholic Church in order to have more people attend the Baptist Church. That doesn't make much sense, does it?
Sure, in the short run, it would be good for attendance at the Baptist Church. But is it really the best solution in the long run?
Benjamin Franklin said it best: We must all hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately.
The notion of forcing one school to close because it's the
smallest so another school with a slightly larger enrollment can stay in the lack doesn't make long-term sense either. Yes, I understand majority
rule, but this is taking that notion to an unnatural extreme. And focusing on the short-term efficiencies blocks our view of the long-term effect on the community.
We are teaching our children that bigger is undoubtedly better. That small can't compete.
And they have learned that lesson well.
Now let' try to show them that what they have in their hometown is valuable enough to keep. And let' tell the Legislature and the Minnesota Department of Education that size does matter.