Letter to the Editor from Former Educator and Macon Resident, Lola Rist
As a teacher who taught 25 years in the Shelby County R-4 school district while living for 35 years and raising graduates of the Macon R-I school district, I find the proposal for redistricting to be very close to my heart. I am saddened over the dissention and negativity that has arisen from the petition to redistrict Clarence into the Macon R-I school district.
As an elementary teacher I traveled between Clarence Elementary and Shelbina Elementary spending 2 week days in Clarence and 3 days in Shelbina due to the enrollment factor. I loved both elementary schools and felt respected, appreciated, and accepted in both communities by the families of the children I taught. Each community is unique and that was hopefully reflected in my teaching. I celebrate in the fact that while these communities shared a high school for close to 50 years and a middle school for close to 25 years that each was able to maintain their elementary schools within their communities. Think of that – 50 years since consolidation! What an achievement!
But times change and with change comes difficult decisions. Both elementary schools have had structural and costly issues. In Clarence Elementary my classroom was in the old high school building and I struggled with respiratory issues and headaches from the air quality throughout the building, and I know others who taught all day in the building and had issues too. It was remedied greatly by dehumidifiers running constantly in classrooms. In Shelbina Elementary one winter my room was freezing. When I started looking for a broken window under the blinds I discovered about a half inch gap of daylight visible around the windows due to the foundation shifting. Both times the administration responded to alleviate the problems. It’s just a matter of time before more issues occur and costly repairs have to happen. Remember both of these buildings were built in a time when each classroom had two plug ins – one for a fan in the front and one for the filmstrip projector in the back. Times have certainly changed.
When our children reached school age my husband and I had to make a choice between sending our children to Macon or take them with me to Shelby County. Both schools had excellent opportunities for education and it would be a win for our children whatever we decided. We both felt that our children needed to attend the school in our community where their friends also attended. Did we ever regret that decision? No – both of our children received a good education from Macon but I know they would have also received a good education at South Shelby. Did we ever think about changing our decision? Yes we did, but we still felt it was important to stay in our community school. As parents, it was our choice to make. I know that children change schools all of the time and given time the majority will adjust and grow, but parents make those decisions based on which school district you decide to live in or because of job opportunities. Regardless of the reason, it should be the parents’ choice to make for the best interest of their family. With the upcoming vote, the debate brings to light the amount of money one school stands to gain and one school stands to lose. As a parent of one school district and an educator from the other, it is disheartening to hear that monetary reasons have replaced the child as the important factor in the upcoming election. I’ve heard one Macon school employee state that by voting yes Macon will get a new school. Where did that come from? We have gone from adding on an addition to building an entire new campus? Money has become more important than the child.
I will be voting NO for the upcoming Prop. 1 which involves the redistricting of Clarence into the Macon school district. Does this mean that I do not believe Macon needs a new school? Not at all, it’s something that needs to be addressed in the future, but NOT at the expense and detriment of a surrounding area school. Does this mean that I believe Shelby County has a better school system? I do not as I know each school has different areas of strength BUT they are BOTH quality schools and parents are lucky to send children to either one. Do I believe that children will not grow and flourish given time when they change districts? No, but I also believe it is the parent’s choice to make for their children and not to be forced to change due to educational politics. Redistricting is not going to alleviate the bullying – it’s everywhere. The frustration over one community having a louder voice due to population will not change but only grow – Macon is over 3 times the size of Shelbina so Clarence will be greatly outnumbered, and the distance between the Macon school campus and the town of Clarence is no shorter than the distance from Clarence to the South Shelby campus, but it will add travel time due to traffic constraints. All of those issues have been listed as cons in the debate for building the new South Shelby Elementary, and moving Clarence to the Macon school district will not remove nor erase them from the list.
I find the negative comments being made regarding the Shelby County R-4 teachers and administration to be both frustrating and unfair. There are many South Shelby graduates who attended BOTH elementary schools, and have returned as educators and community members to both Clarence and Shelbina. These teachers and administration were instructed by the same educators, administrators, and school board members who NOW believe that Shelby Co. R-4 is not providing a quality education to the children of Shelby County.
If the redistricting issue does pass and the students of Clarence become Macon students, will we as a community have to go through the same debate and rhetoric when the Macon school board has to decide about closing the Clarence Elementary? Remember, the redistricting debate didn’t arise until the Shelby County school board begun discussion to consolidate into one new elementary and closing both elementaries in Clarence and Shelbina. Is the money worth going through this again?
Parents who believe that Macon R-1 will provide a better education for their child already can make that a reality by paying tuition, same as parents who choose a private/parochial education for their child. It is their choice to make. Place yourself in the difficult spot of the many parents who believe Shelby County R-4 IS providing a quality education and MADE their choice of districts a reality. They will lose that right because of the voters taking the decision out of their hands regarding what’s best for their child.
Macon community member and also a Shelby County R-lV Educator
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