For small schools throughout the state, tough decisions have to be made regarding the future of the district.
For small schools throughout the state, tough decisions have to be made regarding the future of the district. Declining student and community populations, pressure for consolidation and new funding formulas are just a couple of reasons that K-12 institutions in North Dakota have chosen to shut their doors.
In 2012, Adams Public School, facing many of those issues, closed. Frank Schill, who was the superintendent of the district, was hired in the same position in Edmore. After talking with school officials and local residents, he knew exactly what the community of Edmore's decision was.
"Everyone I talked to made it clear that they wanted to keep the school running as absolutely long as possible," Schill commented. "The school board and the community 100 percent support the schools and understand the importance of a quality education."
A sign of that support was seen this fall during a special bond issue vote. After the passing of a new funding formula put more significance on enrollment, the school district went to the people. In the past, districts could levy up to 110 mills in local taxes. The bill, passed by the state legislature, cut that number of mills to 60. The community of Edmore passed a bond issue allowing the district to continue to levy 110 mills.
"That says it all," the superintendent of schools said. "This is a great community."
With a K-12 enrollment of 70 students, Edmore Public Schools has a lot of special things happening, Schill said. It's a busy, exciting time at the district.
Part of its long-term facility planning, a number of projects have and are set to take place at the school in Edmore. Recently, a brand new kitchen expansion was providing extra storage space and room for employees.
In the fall, the stage was converted into a state-of-the-art fitness center. With a variety of strength and cardiovascular machines, the facility is used for classes, athletic practices and community use. One of the neatest features about the fitness center is that the space can be converted back for use as a stage in about 15 minutes.
"It's gotten a lot of use," Matt Ford, Edmore High School principal, told the Journal. "We are very happy with the addition."
A number of other projects are set for the future. The Edmore facility is made up of two buildings: the original 1920 school and an addition built in 1963. In the next two years, the school hopes to move the heating and cooling systems to the 1963 building.
An ongoing project is the complete removal of asbestos throughout the building. By the next six-to-eight years, the district plans to have the facility asbestos free.
These changes in the facility are an investment to the school and the future. If the district does have to close somewhere down the line, school and community leaders would like to use the building as a community center.
"If that day ever comes, it's important that the facility is in good shape," Schill said.
While many see low enrollment numbers as a major challenge, administrators Schill and Ford believe that the small school environment allows them to get to know every single student.
"I think we have been able to use it as an advantage," Ford stated. "We are able to tailor our curriculum to help our students."
Schill added, "I don't think of this as an educational institution. We are a family and the staff wants all of our kids to succeed."
The opportunities from a small district don't just benefit the staff. Students at Edmore have the chance to take part in an endless number of course on-site, through Interactive Television (ITV), or distance education online. Many students take advantage of the choices. For example, a student can take welding at the school, college English on ITV or an agricultural business course online.
"We are able to take a look at the strengths and interests of our students and work to make their schedule work for them," Ford pointed.
By the time students graduate, many already have more than a semester of college work completed. In this year's senior class, for example, five of seven students will finish high school with 18 college credits.
"That is extremely rare for any district," Schill stated.
It's been an extremely positive two years at the school, the administrators commented. Schill and Ford credit the staff and students for buying into a new system. The goal is to make sure that every student is pushed to do their very best.
"We have high expectations," the superintendent stated. "That's because we care so much for our students. The only way a student can fail here is if they want to fail. We work to ensure that no students fall through the cracks."
Ford added, "When I came in, Mr. Schill told me his vision and we have run with it. It's been great to see everyone buying into it. It's went extremely well."
What makes the school successful is the school board's investment, Schill said. The board has committed to funding everything from new projects, staff housing and additional education for teachers and administrators.
"I cannot say enough about this board, the district and community," the superintendent said. "Because of their support and investment, this is a very special place."