In a thoughtful article Walt Gardner discusses just some of the ramifications around school closures (“Unintended Consequences of Shuttering Schools” 1). His arguments focus on the effects surrounding the closing of schools in rural environments where population has a major effect on enrollment. Interestingly enough a similar argument can be posed for the current decrease in enrollment in a metro setting like Tucson.
While in the case of the rural Texas schools Gardner cites the populations are often leaving to find employment elsewhere, here, in Tucson, the inner city is being abandoned for peripheral areas. The exponential growth of satellite communities such as Marana and Vail near Tucson results in decreased enrollment and subsequent loss of revenue for inner city schools.
I have been through the closing of a school, you could say I’m a school closure survivor. In the case of my school there was another slightly larger school just a half a mile away that could easily absorb our population and make the one consolidated campus more efficient by maximizing enrollment while reducing many of the costs of maintaining two sites. It really was a ‘no-brainer’.
I was a relative newcomer to the staff of this particular school. I had only been there nine years. It was one of those schools where members of the staff never left voluntarily. The school was on the Air Force base, the kids were very motivated, the parents were involved and on those rare occasions when you called home you usually got someone and they responded.
If I may indulge my raconteur’s penchant for a moment, there was one incident where I had to call the parents of one girl who had become ill. Her dad happened to be a Colonel. I called home but Mom was out so after leaving a message I called dad’s work phone. A female Airman answered and I asked for Mr. —–. She replied icily, “You mean, Colonel ——?” I said, “Yes, I’m sorry this is his daughter’s teacher, Mr Severson . . .” “Oh excuse me Mr. Severson, certainly, I will connect you right away.”
It was that kind of environment . A throwback to a time where teachers were respected, school work was turned in on time and homework always done. That’s probably why no one ever left, at least, as I said, not voluntarily.
And yet, we were all on borrowed time.
A thunderbolt struck. We found out that our school might be scheduled for closure and our students would be merging with those at another school. At first we didn’t believe it. But slowly it became more than just a rumor. Finally we met to discus it.
It now became obvious that they were seriously thinking of closing our school and merging the two populations and we were horrified. It was true our school was small, no more than two classes per grade level and a total population under 300. But data showed small schools at the elementary level were better for students (2) (3) (4). Closing our school may have made monetary sense, but we still fought against it tooth and nail.
It was, of course, inevitable. The school closed and the following year all our students were consolidated into the population of the other school. Meanwhile the staff that had worked together for so long scattered to the winds and though we keep in touch with a monthly brunch, it’s just not the same. There is universal agreement among my former colleagues that no matter how good our current schools are, we all miss the community we once were part of.
Beyond the camaraderie, there is a greater issue. Schools are not just institutions where service is delivered. They are often the most stable environment in the lives of the children they educate. Many of our students today are arriving at day care by 6 and staying until 6. Their time in school is the core of their busy lives. The teachers are aware of this, that’s one of the reasons they keep coming back despite the loss of funding, lack of adequate support and the general lack of respect for their profession that is currently in vogue.
Closing a school may make economic sense but in terms of the human effect and affects, the losses are potentially tragic.