Letter to the Editor from Former School Librarian and Clarence Resident, Denise Quinley

July 28, 2018

Dear Editor,

After listening, observing, and praying, I feel reluctantly compelled to exert my right, responsibility and obligation to speak up. This is not easy for me to do, knowing that there are many of us on separate pages concerning the looming school issue—the elephant in every room. I am not a risk taker nor a quick start, nor, unfortunately, a person of few words. I have attempted to gather facts from those against redistricting and from those for it by attending both a Cardinals Kids United and Excellence Through Opportunity meeting. I have tried to use every opportunity given to me to have conversations with both younger and older members of our communities to understand why they feel as they do. I have discovered, which is likely not news to anyone, that both sides are passionate about what they feel is right. Each individual person involved is in a unique place and a fleeting time in their lives, but living the best way they know how right now. I can say that, because whether I like it or not, I now have the experience of being the oldest generation in my family, as many of our friends are or soon will become. It is scary to know that I am one of the ones now that must stand up and try to make a difference, in my humble way, as those who went before us did. Many say that we older adults have no “skin in the school game” since our children are grown. On the contrary, we have a responsibility to share the wisdom we have gained from our experiences which may help the younger parents. Fifty years ago the parents of the Clarence and Shelbina communities did what they felt best by creating South Shelby High School. Times and needs continue to change just as they did back then. With all those excuses made, I will take the liberty to attempt to shine some light on why many of us feel as we do. It is with hope that it might help others consider some more, maybe different perspectives, as they make up their minds and hearts on how they will vote on Aug. 7th.

Many have been, or least I have been, grieving the loss of our Clarence Elementary hometown school and the abandonment that I have felt from many of my longtime friends and colleagues from the eastern side of our district and a few from the west.

The first stage of grief is denial & isolation. When I came to first realize, early on, the idea of consolidating the elementary schools in our communities and closing our local schools in our towns could actually happen, I was in denial. It was a fear that had loomed in my mind, but I hoped would never occur. Members of the communities had expressed in previous elections that that is not what the majority of people in the towns wanted. Nevertheless, this idea went forward again with a fast pace. That is when my husband and I agreed to sign the petition concerning redistricting. We wanted to hear all our options and hoped that our administration and board would slow down, listen, and bring all interested patrons along with understanding and compassion for all views. If this had occurred, I do not believe we would be as torn apart as we are today. We may have reached the same conclusion or perhaps an even better resolution than what we have, but with everyone being on board. When no one listens, you feel isolated

I became angry (second stage of grief & loss), because I did not feel that the concerns and views of the western side of the district were being addressed. Yes, those in power and authority out of obligation listened at the board meetings that I attended, but it did not feel like they heard or cared, but dutifully listened and then moved on with their agenda. I truly regret not having the courage to speak up more at that time, & I have been told I missed my chance. My answer for that is it is never too late to stop and listen and consider what a friend is saying. We should not have been hesitant in asking our board and administration to slow down & give us extra time. We should have asked them to explain just once more the details of the plan going forward and then waited for clear answers to our questions, so we would understand the options available to us. We should have advised the board to TAKE YOUR TIME. I was angry because this did not happen for whatever the reason.

Bargaining is the third stage of grieving. The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control through a series of ‘If only’ statements, such as:

--If only I had tried to be a better person and had spoke up.

This is a weak line of defense to protect oneself from the painful reality that our hometown school is gone. Guilt often accompanies bargaining. We start to believe there was something we could have done differently to have helped to save our hometown school.

Depression is the fourth stage. Depression involves being consumed by memories of what is lost, finding it hard to do things I normally do, longing for what is lost, feeling disbelief, stunned or dazed over what happened, finding it hard to trust people ever since the loss and wanting to distance yourself from people that I once cared about, feeling lonely, feeling that it is unfair that I have to live with the loss, feeling bitter, and feeling envious of others who have not lost something they love and wanted to keep. That all sounds dramatic, but looking back I can see myself being in these different stages and some ways I am still there. I have spoken to others, whom I respect, who have shared that they feel this same hurt, although they do not feel comfortable publicly speaking of it.

Acceptance is the last stage. I am glad to say that time and much prayer has brought me to accept what has happened in our community and to move on. I am no longer angry with those who think differently than myself and whom I felt treated me poorly. Hearts and minds can be changed. Now I am looking to the future.

As I hear the comment when redistricting is discussed, “It is all about the kids,” I think, but it never was not all about the kids. I was a “kid” my junior year of high school from Clarence. The consolidated South Shelby school building was not completed on time for the beginning of the school year, so the entire Clarence HS was bused to Shelbina HS for the first quarter. This was nothing that our parents discussed with us. It had been handled by the adults who we trusted were doing what they felt best. We were the new kids not in familiar territory and invading their home ground, while our new classmates were in their familiar home. I can say that not everything was perfect, but we quickly adjusted and accepted each other, made new friends and moved on. The rest is history. I just had a long lunch today with a lifelong Shelbina friend that I made when we came together our 11th year of school. I enlarged my circle of friends to include both Clarence and Shelbina classmates. We celebrated our 50th class reunion together last year with the biggest attendance ever. I believe I can speak for my classmates that we do not appear scarred, but richer for the experience. I spoke with a South Shelby graduate at the recent Clarence All School Reunion, who revealed that he had moved at least four times during his school career, and he did not feel scarred by his experience. If anything, he felt he grew from it. But, if redistricting should occur, our current South Shelby High and Middle School students will not have to experience any of this if they so choose, as they will be given the choice to finish out their education at South Shelby with tuition paid by Macon School District. As of public notice on June 28, the Macon School Board passed a resolution to pay South Shelby tuition for grades seven through twelve for the remainder of their education for any students who choose to finish their remaining years of MS and HS at South Shelby. Of course, if South Shelby tuition continues to be raised, I would expect there would be a cap on the amount they are willing to pay. This Macon monetary gesture is offered because “it is all about the kids”. The students remaining at South Shelby will not lose their class rank, class or organizational officer positions nor their place on the athletic teams or in the music program as they are not going anywhere. The kids and their families should not fear change, but embrace it, if they must change or choose to change schools. Few other things in life cause such uncertainty and fear as change, which is inevitable and often driven by factors beyond our control. The children will handle it as well as the example that their parents set for them. But, at the same time, they are being spared what HS students fear most losing and hold most dear--their friends. Those who might choose to attend Macon will make even more friends. The elementary students will not travel alone, but with their Clarence friends to whichever school the August election decides.

The future is about the kids. Our communities are all about the kids. The kids do not live in a school building 24/7. They come home each day & spend summers in their communities. All small towns are experiencing loss of population and all that goes with that issue. Each community and the adults, therein, must have courage to do what they think best to survive and thrive in these ever changing times that we live in. The “kids” will grow up and become the adults. We do not want them to feel that we did not act like adults and take responsibility for their future and the community that they live in. The eastern end of our district has accomplished what they feel is best for their community. We must all consider not only our present day kids, who will be passionate parents themselves within possibly the next 10 years or sooner, but what will be best for their kids and generations to come?

Some will say, “But, I moved to this community and this is not what I bargained for.” I have to say I grew up in Clarence & moved home to this community after leaving for almost 10 years for schooling and my husband’s job. We, too, wanted to come home to be closer to our parents and siblings & raise our children close to family. We built a new house in the city of Clarence 11 years ago. We did not anticipate how the times would change our town so drastically. It was not what we bargained for. As we grow older we find life gives us much of what we did not bargain for. We are not the One in control. But, it seems that Clarence now has an opportunity, probably once in a lifetime, to align itself in a better place. I, too, wish that our Clarence community was one that our children would have been able to return to. Due to lack of jobs in Shelby County, that has not been the case nor do I foresee that ever happening. One of them said to us that they felt the ability to receive four years of high school training and come out ready to take on a job in a location they are familiar with, may help our young people make the choice to stay in their home communities. In that same conversation, it was related that they felt Macon, being at the intersection of Highways 63 & 36, will always remain a viable community and would be spared the drying up experience of the smaller surrounding communities. Young people may want to come back to this area to live, which would be a plus for the city of Macon. If you are a parent of children currently now in school, it seems that would be a point for you to think about—to think beyond the short few years that they are under your control and responsibility. In your zeal to save your kids (who are resilient creatures) from discomfort now, could you be denying them a better future in the long run? Unfortunately, as much as I hate it, there have not been and will most likely not be jobs for the majority of our young people to return to in Shelby Co. If you would prefer that your children not move far away from home as ours did and raise your grandchildren far from you, so they never consider this area “home”, it is something to be considered. Also, another one of our children said, “If it is all about the kids, then paying some of the highest taxes in the state to the school is taking money out of the parents’ pockets to spend on their families and kids.” In addition, after graduation, if your kids want to stay or come home, they will be young adults trying to start their lives while paying the same high taxes.

I have read, & reread, with interest & consideration, the letters and articles and, yes, the facebook posts, of respected friends, colleagues, former & current board members and administrators & students. I felt the majority were doing their best to give us correct information and food for thought from their perspective and experiences. I admire the courage of all those taking a stand on either side & especially those that keep their tempers or mocking in check. Perhaps that makes me “milk toast”--not decisive enough. This is not a black and white, cut and dried matter. It is a “ big, big, big deal,” as our South Shelby principal, Mr. Windsor stated. It is bigger than all of us, and I feel that we are communities standing in the need of prayer. God can take any situation and make it something good for all concerned. There is a Higher Plan. There will be a Community Prayer Group meeting held at the Clarence Civic Club Building each Tues morning from 7:30- 8:00 and Tues evening from 7-7:30 until election day. The August 7th Prayer Group morning & evening location will be posted at a later date due to the Civic Club being the city polling place. It is a come and go as needed, approximately 20 minutes of worship and silent prayer. We are praying for guidance and God’s Will To Be Done for what is according to His Plan and for healing between our friends and communities, and within families. We only want what He wants for us. Perhaps this opportunity for Clarence to become a part of the Macon school district is somehow an answer to the prayers for the community of Clarence. It is not in any way meant to hurt our eastern friends, who must do all they can do to help their community & residents as well. Nor does anyone wish to cause pain, stress, and fear for families with school age children. It is stressful to cause unhappiness and anxiety for these parents. It is recognized that they have the added responsibility of handling the situation that will protect their children not only now, but when they step out into the adult world. They must lead by good example and provide a good foundation, showing their children how to accept change and grow from it.

All people of both sides of the issue are encouraged to come and feel welcome at our Community Prayer Group. We ask that there be no discussions held on the premises concerning the school issue, just concerned friends gathering to pray together and leave quietly when finished. If you cannot come at that time, please take a few minutes to unite in prayer wherever you are. We offer our individual silent prayers and have a prayer suggestion list which includes praying for Clarence, Shelbina & Macon children and their parents; the citizens of Clarence, Shelbina, and Macon; the school administrators and board members of South Shelby and Macon; the Clarence, Shelbina, & Macon Churches & communities; our country and our leaders and finally that we may display the qualities of the fruits of the spirit toward everyone: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control and God’s Will Be Done.


Denise Quinley