To the Editor:
For decades, the state of Iowa was nationally recognized for the high quality of education it provided to its young people. We could boast that our state had the highest literacy rate in the nation. The statement, "I am from Iowa" was certain to be favorably noted by a prospective employer from another state. That employer could assume, and with justification, that the prospective employee from Iowa had a well developed work ethic, good reading comprehension, a knowledge of basic mathematics, understood the power of compound interest, and knew how to compose an intelligible sentence. They also knew the young Iowan had a good grasp of American and world history and how our government is supposed to work.
It would not be totally off the mark to say that Iowa's educational reputation has slipped. It would not be inaccurate to also conclude that Iowa's prior reputation of educational excellence was built primarily upon the achievements of graduates of its small schools. The remaining small schools in Iowa continue to do a good job, despite handicaps of declining rural population and more absentee ownership of farmland. In prior decades, passing any bond issue was a matter of pride. Today, many landowners regard the schools as a problem that should be of no concern to them.
Palo Alto County has some unique resources that would seem to offer possibilities for a new approach. With some new and innovative thinking, such a model would be financially efficient and would offer a more diverse set of educational opportunities, not only for those students who aspire to higher education, but also for those students who are blessed with other talents that need to be identified and developed.
First, existing bricks and mortar should be preserved, because it will be needed. Building a large central school would take resources that could be better used elsewhere.
Second, an obvious target for more effective use of available funds is to reduce administrative overhead. Establishing a single county educational budget and a central administrative staff might be logical. In past years, the superintendents and principals of Iowa's small schools were not strictly administrators, but also taught classes and performed other duties as well. This did not detract from the efficient operation of the school or achievement of its educational objectives.
Third, the resources of Iowa Lakes Community College should be incorporated into the total mix of student options. During the days of the one room schools, each of these districts paid tuition to a high school in the area if the student wanted to go beyond an eighth grade education. Something similar could be done to accommodate the goals of those students who want to aggressively pursue an advanced college prep program. Likewise, the technical training resources of the college could help students who do not plan to attend a four year college to identify their own unique abilities and start to develop them.
Under this system, each of the existing schools in the county would retain their individual identity, and, when possible, its athletic teams, but a wider array of educational options would be available.
This is a tough issue that touches deep issues of local control and community pride, but if the real objective is recognized, namely better educational opportunities for our young people, the need to explore new options becomes apparent, if not vital.
Sincerely, (signed) Alan Oppedal