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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What to do with rural schools?

It's a tough question, and one that the Arkansas State Board of Education struggled with again yesterday. The issue? The Harrisburg School District's petition to close its Weiner High School campus.

The Weiner School District was annexed into Harrisburg in 2010 after Weiner fell below the state-mandated district minimum of 350 students for two year in a row.  Weiner residents fought the annexation then, largely out of fear of losing the schools in their 700-member community.

Since that time, the Weiner schools lost enrollment, though their academic records remained strong.

One community member attributed the departure of students to the fact that parents were not sure whether the school would be there for their children to attend in future years. Business and industry also hesitate to come to a community in which the schools face possible closing. (We've heard the same statements in Lead Hill, a school district that also faced consolidation due to enrollment numbers.)

We admit that the best answer for children in previous years has seemed to be the closing of the smaller campus to provide all students the same benefits of attending a larger, more resourced school. The drawbacks have always been the long bus rides and the loss of community involvement those closings often entail.

Yet, we believe advancing technology could make it more feasible to keep successful small schools open.

As one of the Weiner school supporters voiced to the State Board yesterday, a single teacher could teach a full class made of students from both campuses through "localized" distance learning. What's more, he or she could teach from one campus one day and from the other the next. This is just one of the efficiencies that would allow for more administrative consolidations without the tumultuous consolidation of schools themselves.

We'd love to hear about examples of this model operating successfully in the state. We know they're out there. But, as the Weiner High School will be no more at the end of this year, the Harrisburg School District will not be one of them.

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