January 31, 2002

Wyaconda School Board Votes To Close District's High School Next Year

Tears filled the eyes of several board members and Wyaconda Board of Education President Gayle Randle could not keep the emotion out of her voice as she received the votes of her fellow board members. Randle made it a unanimous 7-0 vote to close the Wyaconda High School and make the transition to a kindergarten through eighth grade school.

As the final vote was cast at the January 28 meeting several students and faculty members quickly exited the gymnasium where 30 or 40 interested bystanders had gathered to hear the decision of the board.

"We have tried our very best the past five years to keep this school together," Randle told the gathering as she continued to fight back tears.

The vote followed roughly 30 minutes of discussion regarding the future of the school district which ultimately kept returning to the consensus that the matter was not going to be resolved doing what the board "wanted" to do, but instead by what it "had" to do.

"A former board member told me that you have to vote with your head and not your heart," Randle said. "That is a pretty hard thing to do."

Superintendent Scott Rigg read a list of questions prepared by the Wyaconda staff to the board as the meeting opened.

The staff questioned why the vocational and advanced classes that are necessary for state accreditation and higher student achievement were not being offered at Wyaconda. Rigg stated that the teacher must be certified to teach such classes and even then there would not have been enough student enrollment in the course to justify it.

The staff also questioned the problem of teacher shortages, stating that the district had a relatively stable staff. Rigg noted that the district did have a strong core of teachers but the district always had difficulty attracting teachers in certain areas, specifically science.

Board member Joe Humes told the board that he felt the group should trust in its superintendent's judgment, as several of the members had been taught at a recent board training session in Jefferson City.

Rigg answered the question by stating he had to recommend that the district go to a kindergarten through eighth grade system, meaning the closure of the high school.

In several previous meetings Rigg had given the board several factors to consider. Topics of discussion included the school's declining high school population, which has dwindled to 36 students, a decline of 13 students from six years ago. The district had only two non-tuitioned seniors, with a total graduating class expected to number just seven.

Another main topic was the cost of education at Wyaconda C-I where an estimated $9,200 is spent per pupil compared to the state average of $6,800. That has resulted in Wyaconda having one of the highest tax rates in the region.

All of these problems wait in the shadow of the upcoming Missouri School Improvement Program school assessment that is scheduled for the 2002-2003 school year. The district currently is one of only 35 schools in the state (524 state public schools) that is on provisional status as far as accreditation.

"The last thing I wanted to do when I took this job was to close the high school, but we simply can not stay as we are," Rigg told the board.

One possible alternative that was considered was a shared high school system with Revere but Rigg said the idea was difficult to propose as there was no solid student numbers to support such a transition, which likely would have required the creation of a facility in the Luray area.

Rigg also pointed out that the impending MSIP visit scheduled for the following school year could ultimately take the decision out of the hands of the board. If the district became unaccredited the state would decide the fate of the district.

While the group seemed in agreement that the high school had to be closed there was some additional discussion regarding the transition to a K-8 school.

Board member Marcia Boatman asked if the district would not be better off creating an elementary school for students in grades kindergarten through sixth grade. She asked if that would not make the transition easier for students as most area high schools graduate sixth graders into the high school setting for junior high.

"I hate to see us keep an elementary school that is going to go downhill in two or three years," said Board member Bill Golbricht. He added that board members did not want to have to make a similar decision on the future of the entire district in a few years down the road.

While the board obviously was anguishing over the decision they did take some relief from the idea that high school students that would have to move onto another surrounding school district would be well prepared.

"I was worried about how the kids would fit in academically at the other schools but our grading scale is actually much higher and our school requires more credits to graduate," said Boatman.

Board member Mary Beth St. Clair told the board that she had visited with three students that had recently transferred to Scotland and Clark County High School.

"These kids expressed to me that they felt they were way ahead of their new school in many subject areas, but were behind in a few," St. Clair said.

Ultimately the board settled into the inevitable portion of the meeting when the final decision had to be made. Randle asked for final comments from the board.

"I don't think we have a choice," said board member Brad Kirchner. "We have to make this decision, but I even have my doubts about K-8." Those sentiments were echoed by board member Clifford Knupp who simply said "We have no choice."

St. Clair said that if the district could have gotten grants to build the high school building for a shared site with Revere they could have kept the high school, but without the site the high school could not continue in Wyaconda.

Golbricht said that the decision needed to be made now to allow the district to have a say in the school's future and to allow the students a choice where they will attend school.

"If the state comes in and closes us down then we have no say whatsoever in the kids' future," he said.

Boatman added her frustration with the impending state involvement. "We might stand a chance if the state would stay out of it, but they are hanging over our heads pushing us toward this decision," she said.

Joe Humes then made the motion for the district to transition into a kindergarten through eighth grade school. Kirchner seconded the motion. The motion passed by a 7-0 vote.

The district has scheduled a special meeting for February 12 to discuss designating a neighboring school for Wyaconda high school students to attend beginning next year. The students can choose to attend any of the schools in the four adjoining counties, Clark, Lewis, Scotland or Knox County.

The district must select one school to be designated as the board's choice. This mainly entails transportation, which the district will be required to provide to one school. However the board of education can vote to provide transportation to all four districts and those routes would be eligible for State Transportation Aid.

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