Editor's Note: Jeanne Surface, Ed.D., is an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. She received her doctorate from the University of Wyoming and is an experienced rural superintendent and principal. She has chaired numerous dissertation committees, published many scholarly works, and written several hundred short law briefs for the Education Law Association. Her teaching areas are public school law, qualitative research methods, and advanced research.
Jeanne's 2016 article, Losing a Way of Life: The Closing of a Country School in Rural Nebraska, appeared in the Country School Journal, which is published by the Country School Association of America.
You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org/.
Losing a way of life: The closing of a country school in rural Nebraska.
By Jeanne Surface, Ed.D.
How did I get involved?
The Nebraska legislature in June 2005 mandated school consolidations by the passage of Nebraska LB 126 designed to force Class I (elementary school only) districts and all Class VI (high school only) districts to merge with neighboring districts. The state incentivized the consolidation through their structure for financing schools.
In the fall of 2012 I was asked to serve on a committee to help plan the 2013 Nebraska Center for Great Plains studies annual symposium. The topic for this year was “Gains and Losses from School Consolidations in the Great Plains”
My background is rural: teacher, principal and superintendent in both Nebraska and Wyoming. Now as an associate professor my research is focused on rural schools and communities. I have some influences in my background that make me a little different than my K-12 peers with regard to school consolidation. I am very opposed.
The story of this school consolidation came about because of Facebook post by a close friend from college! She was recruiting neighbors to attend the conference on School Consolidations. I noticed the comment and immediately messaged her and the conversation began.
The conference was in April and in June she brought voices from the school back together around her dining room table. In the morning the focus group conversation was with family members (mothers) from the school. A separate focus group was held in the afternoon was the teachers who taught at the school. The information that I gained that day has further impacted my view about school consolidation.
One of the most memorable stories that I heard that day was from a former student who talked about having multiple fund raisers to buy new playground equipment and all of the area families came to help install the equipment. The district that took over the school removed the equipment and the student saw it in a pile near a dump site in the community near the district office. The playground was like a metaphor to what had happened to this healthy school and community. Disposed of. Powerless. Resentment, Anger. Loss of community life.
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