"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Closing Schools

Making a decision to close schools is never easy. Schools are not just buildings, they're living, breathing entities with an atmosphere defined by the people, adults and children, who work within.

Last night, our local school board of education voted to close two elementary schools at the end of this year. The closings were prompted by economic troubles. Our school system, like most around the state and the nation, is facing serious economic shortfalls and the board decided that closing some schools would be the best option.

After a series of town meetings, the board agreed to a plan presented by the school board to close six of the eleven elementary schools and change one of the five high schools to a college-prep magnet school. The citizens of the district who attended the meetings were adamant that their local high schools be kept open. The debate, then, centered around which schools to close.

No one wanted the high school in their area of the district closed. No one was willing to sacrifice. The school board, feeling the pressure to solve the economic crisis, decided on closing six elementary schools over the next few years instead.

The administration believes it has a plan which will provide appropriate instruction and atmosphere for all the students. It involves, when it's finally finished, creating "K-12 Campuses" around the district and busing students to central locations. The first closings will occur at the end of this year...and the two schools slated to close will, in a few months, send students home for summer vacation for the last time.

I taught at both of the schools which will close this year...on opposite sides of the district. I started at Monroeville Elementary School in 1976, my first full year of teaching, and remained there for 11 years. A few years later I transferred to Harlan Elementary School and spent the last 19 years of my career there. Both schools were well respected within their own communities. Like the Gallop Poll on Public Education consistently reveals, most people are very pleased with their local schools and the communities these two schools were no exception.

It's unfortunate that these two schools, so important to their communities, have to close at the end of the year. The teachers will adapt. I know from experience that it's possible to change schools and continue one's career...it's hard...but it can be done. The children will adapt as well. I have some doubts about the K-12 Campus configuration that's planned for the future, however, I know the teachers in our school district. I know they will adjust over time and focus on the most important issue, the success of our students.

This solution to the economic crisis in our local district, however, is proof that the national and state legislatures and leaders are not strong enough...not honest enough...not ethical enough, to deal with the real problems facing the nation. The children of our district, just like children around the country are being forced to take the brunt of the damage caused by Wall Street. Legislators and political executives are frantically pointing fingers at everyone else, and schools, teachers, and teachers unions are at the center of the target. No one wants to blame the corporate culture which caused the crisis. Politicians get elected because they take money from those same corporate interests. Once in office, they are obliged to do the bidding of those who put them there.

The people who brought us our current "Great Recession" are still living in luxury while the number of children living in poverty in the US climbs. They still get their millions of dollars in bonuses and tax breaks, while funding for programs for children and schools are cut. The attack on the public schools of America continues because of the greed and selfishness of the super-wealthy.

The closing of our two schools is a local tragedy, and pulls apart the heart of the community, but it is just a logical consequence of the nation-wide attacks against American public schools and the children we serve.

UPDATE: The school board has decided to close 6 elementary schools in total. Four after the 2010-2011 school year and two the following year.


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