Published On: Thu, May 15th, 2014

Community offers input on proposed school merger

Patrons of School District 42R and adjacent areas had an opportunity on Thursday, May 8, to learn about a proposed five-district merger. The schools involved besides Osmond are Creighton, Plainview, Bloomfield and Wausa. The meeting was hosted by Osmond Community School Board of Education and administration. The meeting was conducted by Vice President Michelle Reikofski in the absence of President Cheryl Friedrich, who was ill.

Superintendent Dave Hamm shared information from the meeting at Creighton on Feb. 26. Among topics there were challenges the districts face, declining enrollment, aging facilities, finances, staff, diverse curriculum and smaller class sizes.  From the meeting, it was determined that there is parental and community support, great kids, quality staff and administration, and the district being financially responsible. They explored what each district is doing well and what students need to be successful. A purpose of the study was developed. Discussion took place on providing the best possible educational opportunities and environment, sustaining the system and being proactive.

At a meeting in Wausa on March 31, Dr. Michael Chipps and senior leadership staff from Northeast Community College in Norfolk spoke on bringing the some college level into the high school. Some concern was raised about becoming a training ground for Northeast; however, it was noted that there could also be partnerships with other area colleges.

A mission statement was developed and includes quality education, cover all levels, look toward sustainability (20-plus years), leadership, best learning environment, succeed in a competitive society.

On April 23, a similar meeting was held in Osmond. These meetings were attended by three members of each school district. Information on the meetings is posted on the school’s website. Besides the local board members, attending the Osmond meeting were Dr. Chips, Vice President Mary Honke and Vice President John Blaylock. The Northeast representatives indicated they would like to be included in planning a “mega district” from the ground floor.

The next steps to be completed after the Osmond meeting were to investigate possible consultants, teachers begin to develop curriculum outline, and financial investment to fund continued exploration. There is no model for such a mega district; none have been formed. This one will be developed as the study proceeds.

To the question of why focus on five schools, the following were outlined: it meets the criteria of the purpose statement; all schools are coming together in good faith; boards are focusing on curriculum and increased opportunities for students; allows for building a new facility; allows for each community to continue to operate an elementary school.

Vice President Reikofski noted that all five schools are in the top 25% and none are in need of closing; but are looking for a better future for their students. She encouraged that as the study continues, the groups work together – put differences aside.

There is a plan to have a central website available by June 1 to store all information related to the study. It will include both a Facts and Questions section as well as a “submit a question” section. There will be links from each school’s website to the central website and from the central website back to each school.

A lengthy question and answer session followed. Introducing it, Mrs. Reikofski urged those planning to speak to keep on the topic without tying in other issues.

Among topics brought up during the session were:

Continuing in the study by Osmond: While no straw poll was taken, there seemed to be no vocal objection to contributing the $10,000 and continuing at least for the present. Paying the study fee does not commit a district to staying with the merger.

Site of new school: not decided at this point – would be affected if any schools do not continue pursuing the merger.

What other schools of this mega district size would be in the area? The five districts would be a Class B school; maybe more like a Class C-1 in five years. The nearest Class B school now would be Aurora. Area schools with which Osmond could compete would be Pierce, Wayne, Crofton, Norfolk Catholic.

How long before a merger would take place: No timetable has been set.

Some comments touched on the benefit of having more staff and being able to address the needs of three levels in a given class: those students benefiting from additional help, the “normal” and the higher achievers. Additional class offerings and extracurricular activities may also be possible. On the other side, a former student explained the benefits received by coming to Osmond from a large city school; while yet another member of the audience spelled out benefits from a larger system.

Pick up this week’s issue of the Osmond Republican to read more!