Rural, public education is a passion for our family and has been for generations. Today in our small town newspaper, The Wishek Star, my husband, Nathan, has a letter to the editor, following our public pre-school being cut for the school year last week, the week before school begins. I’m sharing it below for those who aren’t subscribers to read.
To the editor:
During the Aug. 14 School Board meeting, our board and administration reacted to a change in staffing by removing the pre-school program from our school.
Some will tell you there was no choice, there wasn’t a faculty member qualified or interested, or there wasn’t enough time to put a different plan into action. It is important to know there was an option to preserve the one day a week of pre-school. The board and administration chose not to fill that position.
Administrators are paid with taxpayer dollars to make decisions and recommendations. The board is to ensure those decisions fit within the best interest of the school. Both groups own all situations and issues together.
This decision did not consider the need to give back to the community and area that supports the school. Schools are a key part of every community and regardless of age, or if we have children in the school, we must be engaged in what is happening in the school, what the environment is, and is our school in track with others in the area.
The problem is this action to remove pre-school for the coming school year took only a few minutes, yielded little to no discussion, and had no strong voice of support from anyone at the table, administration or board member. Pre-school was removed with less discussion than purchasing a new lawn mower.
There are members of the board who strongly feel their responsibility is for K-12 education because those are reimbursed by the state. Since 2011, the topic of pre-school has been a constant part of school board meetings and agendas.
Each year, a group of community-minded parents and other volunteers raise 50-percent of the cost of the pre-school, so the next group of students coming into Wishek Public School is as prepared as possible. I graduated from Wishek High School in 1994 and learned to read in first grade with Mrs. Zimmerman, as many of us in the area did. Our two elementary-aged daughters learned to read by November of their kindergarten year, as mandated by today’s state requirements.
Not being receptive to the need for early childhood education puts our school and community behind the times.
The current arrangement was not perfect, but it was better than no pre-school at all. This arrangement was an example of what’s possible when community and school work together. The board and administration terminated this partnership and then staff notified affected families two days later by telephone.
The fundraising has been highly successful each and every year, because of the willingness of people to organize and to open their wallets.
Our administration and board turned their backs not only on the 20 students and families that would have benefitted from pre-school this year but also those who made these donations over the past seven years. If the average cost of pre-school is $15,000 a year, it’s a safe assumption the community has provided nearly $45,000 of donations tagged directly to this component of our school. This is above and beyond the taxes already required. The commitment should not be taken lightly.
Situations like this require a larger perspective and sense of responsibility. Some will say it isn’t a big deal, it isn’t required, or they don’t want to get personally involved. Others see what has really happened. Draw your own conclusions and ask your own questions. Was this the only option? Was this the best option? People will differ, but 20 families and kids lost and the consequences of this one action may never truly be known.
Patrons read information in our newspaper about the need to raise taxes due to less state funding and declining enrollments. We also read about the need for volunteers to coach, officiate, and fill other roles, or else. Will those programs and activities also be cut? Is this an acceptable model for our school? Other schools in the area are facing the same issues. What are they doing to make it work and why do they have fewer of these issues?
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just throw up our hands and quit when something doesn’t go exactly as planned; that we could just take our ball and go home? That may be true on the playground, but it is not true for paid administrators and a board accountable to taxpayers.
Has anyone considered what may happen to some of the 20 students and families that won’t have pre-school this year? Have we considered that for some, the impacted child is their first to attend school? Some of these families live in an area where they can choose between three schools. One school will gladly pick up pre-schoolers on their buses to bring them into school. Families have more choices than ever on where and how to educate their children. There is a chance these families will make a choice based on a last-minute decision like this to never enroll at Wishek Public School.
I served on the Wishek School Board during the past decade and, along with many others, was an advocate for pre-school. During my time on the board, pre-school was the only item presented that gave us the ability as a board to take action to increase the number of students in desks in our school.
We need to see past the one year of expense with the goal of gaining students for K-12. We need to view pre-school as an investment in the future of our school and of our students. We need to do more to show families that are not currently enrolled here that Wishek is progressive and that Wishek Public School wants and appreciates the opportunity to have their children as students.
Show your support for the individuals educating our children. Ask questions of the administration and School Board. Ask them if they are managing for the future and not just for tomorrow.
Katie again. I have turned off comments on this post as it is not mine. You can direct your feedback to the Wishek Public School, or directly to Nathan. You won’t find him on social media but his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.