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Since the 1800’s, the consolidation of rural schools in the United States has been a controversial topic for policymakers, school administrators, and rural communities. Primary concerns with consolidation include budget, efficiency, student achievement levels, school size, and community identity. In the history of American education, consolidation has been an alternative way to solve rural issues. Currently, rural schools and communities facing declining enrollments and financial cutbacks are challenged by the growing trend of consolidation and school reorganization.
Debates continue today, whether the consolidation movement is considered a success. Opponents of school consolidation point to research that suggests consolidation may not lead to cost savings and in some cases may even lead to increased costs for transportation and specialized staff. Furthermore, towns that lose a school to consolidation may face a loss of social and fiscal capacity. However, some projects have brought attention to the strengths of rural and small schools. Advocates for small schools, opposing consolidation, express the low teacher/student ratio, personal environment, higher number of students in extracurricular activities, cooperative learning, and integrated curriculum. Socially, schools in rural areas act as the main social activity, allowing students to have a strong connection to their community and immediate environment.
School district consolidation has a long and jagged history in Nebraska. The historical trend has been towards fewer school districts. In fact, in 2005 the passage of Legislative Bill 126 in the Nebraska Unicameral encouraged the merger of many small rural school districts with larger K-12 districts, signaling a move toward district consolidation. In recent years, changes in the state school aid formula have encouraged voluntary school district consolidation. For this reason, the idea of consolidation has breached my hometown and nearby communities. Knowing that consolidation is currently being considered, I wanted to devote my efforts towards creating a unified and more up-to-date school environment for the rural communities of Clarkson, Howells and Dodge.
In addition to the school consolidation conflict, there is a pedagogical shift occurring within schools across the nation. The current Information Age is a period of American history representing a time of great cultural transformation from the industrial factory model to a new paradigm that is more student-centered. Educational approaches to accommodate media saturated students have created experimentation and controversy. The current situation between Clarkson, Howells and Dodge allows the unified school board to finally capitalize on those missed opportunities to create better school facilities and incorporate newer teaching pedagogies.