Call it an example of democracy in action.
Although it's not directly related to the Marshall school district's facility problems -- as school board President Larry Godsey reminded those who attended a public meeting Thursday, Jan. 21, at Bueker Middle School -- the subject of "neighborhood schools" came up repeatedly and insistently when district officials and Citizens for the School Bond committee members talked to people during the bond issue campaign last fall.
The school board decided it would have to address the question, and following the failure of the bond issue in November, the board directed Superintendent Craig Noah to study the feasibility of returning to multigrade schools.
Noah plans to report on his findings at the board meeting Monday, Jan. 25, at 7 p.m. in the Central Administration Office at Vest Street and Miami Avenue.
The subject has been raised frequently during the series of public meetings conducted during the past two weeks, too.
Lucy Fletcher said at the meeting Jan. 14 that she has read about studies suggesting that parent involvement and student success are not well served by larger schools. She also said the smaller existing schools better fit Marshall's small-town atmosphere, something many people in the community cherish.
"I went to one school, kindergarten through sixth grade," said Sharon Murdock at the meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19, at Northwest school. "I went to Eastwood. There was some pride in the school you went to. It seems like we want to throw away our past and try to be Kansas City or Olathe or whatever. These kids are having to be bussed all over Marshall."
Wayne Crawford, co-chairman of the Citizens for the School Bond committee, agreed with the sentiment, but noted that he had learned some things since becoming involved in the campaign that he hadn't realized before.
"I like that idea, too. I asked, 'Why not?'" he said. He noted that society has changed, and rules for education have changed. It's no longer acceptable, he said, to have schools that are effectively segregated by demographics, having too many of one sex or one race or one economic class in the same school.
"You're going to end up bussing anyway to blend the students" and to level the number of students per school, he said.
And bussing may not be such a bad thing, at least from the perspective of some school administrators.
"I love bussing, because their safety is our concern," said Northwest Principal Janine Machholz. She noted that when students are picked up by parents or designated caregivers, or when they ride the bus, she knows where they are and that they are in good hands. If they walk to and from school, she doesn't have the same assurance of their safety.
Former school administrator Joe Mitchell provided a brief history lesson to those at the BMS meeting, reminding people why the old system was abandoned in favor of the current system.
He said had been working in the district for two years and was principal of Benton and Eastwood schools when the change was enacted.
At Benton, second-grade classes had 29 to 30 children -- more than current accreditation standards allow -- and at Eastwood, second-grade classes had 17 or 18 students, he said.
The district attempted to even things out by gerrymandering attendance zones, he said, but even that did not work.
"It was a nightmare trying to figure out where the boundaries would be. That's what triggered the decision to create the system we have now," he said. "I don't think those residential patterns have changed any in the last 30 years."
At a meeting Thursday afternoon, Jan. 21, at Eastwood school, Mike Mills echoed some of Murdock's concerns.
"I had four children go through ... right in the middle of when we went to this (current system)," Mike Mills said. "It just caused a lot of problems."
Noah responded that his research and discussions with staff members shows there are positive aspects of going to a multigrade school system again.
"The positives are, you don't transition a kid to a new building" every year, Noah said, noting that changing buildings every year can present challenges for students, parents and even principals and teachers. "Principals and teachers don't know their kids as well. About the time you figure them out, here comes a new group."
Noah noted that -- for the reasons Mitchell noted -- it is not likely the district can return to the neighborhood schools as people remember them. But switching to multigrade schools is an option the district could choose.
"It wouldn't be a 'neighborhood school.' You're going to have to divide the students based on economics, demographics, reading level, etc. But they're going to be in the same building for three years" if that option is chosen.
At the BMS meeting, however, several people spoke out in favor of the current system. One woman said that although her child changes buildings every year, he is acquainted with more students his own age because his whole grade travels together.
"It's a new building every year, but it's not new faces every year," she said.
School board member Teri Wright said if voters approve the bond issue and support building new schools, the question may resolve itself within about a decade.
The district's long-range plan currently calls for building a grade three through five elementary school first if the bond issue passes, and after eight to 10 years, when the bond has been paid down sufficiently, asking voters for permission to build a pre-kindergarten through second grade school, giving the district two multigrade elementary schools.