Do the right thing

How many times has history been changed for good because one person, or perhaps a handful of people, stared a moment of truth in the eyes and did the right thing?

It may not have always been the purely lawful thing, laws being as flawed as the humans that create them. It may not have always been the popular thing. It hardly ever was the easy thing.

But it was the right thing. And that made the difference.

The Arkansas Board of Education convenes Monday to consider the fate of Weiner High School. It will parse through the statutory and regulatory requirements in consolidation law. It will listen to arguments on both sides of the question: Harrisburg School District representatives who want to close Weiner’s high school, and students, patrons and others who want to let the 126-year-old school continue its legacy of above-average learning.

This is a landmark opportunity. Of all the good, successful schools illogically closed in recent years in the name (but rarely the result) of economic consolidation, Weiner is arguably the most illogical.

Remember years ago when consolidation was being pitched? Proponents earnestly assured small-school patrons that district consolidation did not mean school consolidation. But in district after district, that’s what happened. Small schools got shuttered.

Sometimes the larger-district school had lower test scores, graduation rates, ACT averages—didn’t matter. Sometimes the larger-district school had higher costs, dropout rates, discipline problems—didn’t matter.

What often wound up being the determining factor was simply the larger school board’s will or whim, with educational performance low on the criteria list.

The Harrisburg School District voted to close the Weiner High School campus 4-1. But because Weiner is an isolated school, the vote must be unanimous. So now the state board will cast its vote.

It would be easy to shut down the school. It’s been done to other schools, so there’s plenty of precedent.

There’s only one reason to vote to allow Weiner to keep its high school campus:  It’s the right thing.

To any objective observer who would take the time to analyze the data surrounding Harrisburg’s request, closing Weiner High School simply fails to make any sense financially or academically.

Let’s start with the economics. In its petition, Harrisburg notes that its per-pupil cost is slightly lower than Weiner’s, and complains that the Weiner campus has “cost” the district a $245,345 loss because that’s the difference between the cost of operating the Weiner campus ($2.59 million) and the revenue it produced ($2.35 million).

A quarter-million-dollar loss isn’t pretty, to be sure. But Harrisburg conveniently neglects to mention the “loss” its own campus suffered under the same financial analysis. Harrisburg spent $8.88 million to operate its campus, but only produced revenue of $7.39 million—that $1.49 million “loss” is six times larger than the Weiner deficit, and more than twice as much per student.

If losing money is a reason to close a school, why start with the school in the district losing the least?

The academic analysis also seems to indicate that Harrisburg needs to emulate, not dismantle, Weiner. Looking at the AP (advanced placement) classes at both schools, 41 percent of Weiner seniors enrolled in 12th-grade AP English; only 6 percent of Harrisburg students did.

Nearly half of Weiner sophomores(48 percent) enrolled in 10th-grade AP English compared with only 17 percent at the Harrisburg campus. Up and down the AP course lineup, Weiner students participate at a higher level than Harrisburg students.

In junior high grades, Weiner offers a nationally recognized GT (gifted and talented) program for students instead of pre-AP courses, although all core teachers are fully AP-trained and incorporate those strategies in the classrooms.

With both schools open, students can choose between Pre-AP or GT tracks. Why eliminate the GT choice (which Harrisburg doesn’t offer)?

In 2010, the Weiner 11th grade tied for the highest literacy scores in all of Arkansas. Just last year, the Weiner middle school tied for 13th overall, achieved in part because of a seventh-grade class that ranked sixth in the state.

THE STATE’S commitment to education dates back nearly 140 years to our 1874 constitution. The legislative act establishing our consolidation policy is barely a decade old, and technology has changed information and interaction dramatically in that short time.

Monday is a moment of truth. The state board can take a stand for progress by using Weiner as an example and declaring, “Not today. We’re not shutting down a high-performing school.”

Weiner has already been consolidated. Districts should hold all schools to the same performance standards before recommending closure, and clearly that’s not happening in this instance.

Supporting a good school that works is always the right thing. If the state board won’t do that, who will?

Only two of 62 schools are left standing in the championship match of the 1A girls state basketball tournament to be played Saturday.

The Weiner Lady Cardinals (with only seven players on its squad) deserve a chance to repeat their run to the state finals next year.


One thought on “Do the right thing

  1. I just want to thank you for speaking up for what is right, and all you do. You are so good at saying exactly what needs to be said. If we had leaders in offices and on boards as intelligent and fair- and logical-minded as you, this state and our world would be much better off for it. On behalf of myself, my son, and my parents – THANK YOU from the bottom of our humble hearts
    Hope Cooper
    (with Kenton Cooper-Gulley
    Charles & Gloria Cooper

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