LARWILL — After a public discussion reportedly became heated at last month’s board meeting to discuss and determine the reconfiguration of the school corporation, the Whitko School Board had several officers on site for last night’s meeting, Jan. 15, where they would announce how the schools would be consolidated.
With declining enrollment in the Whitko School Corporation, the decision that a reconfiguration of the school system was needed was made a little over a year ago. Whitko Middle School offered a newer facility with bigger classrooms, but the high school offered less needed renovation, and therefore less taxpayer money, in the consolidation. Many wanted to keep students at the Larwill campus so the location was centralized in the district, while others preferred the high school’s location.
Several board members talked of losing sleep and dealing with declining health over the stress of the decision.
“I look a mess because I am a mess,” said board member Carrie Hoffman during the discussion before the vote.
The board set aside time in the agenda to allow the public to speak. Despite asking for words to be kept to three minutes, most had much more to say. That said, no tempers rose and the room remained calm.
One of those who spoke was current Whitko eighth grader Hailey Arnold. Arnold has spent four years at the middle school after renovations sent her grade to the school a year early. Arnold expressed that many of the students have negative feelings about staying at the middle school or, for high schoolers, returning to it.
“The atmosphere, as of now, is unhealthy and makes learning very challenging,” Arnold said of the middle school, adding that she feels bringing high schoolers back would only make things more challenging.
A good portion of the crowd seemed to agree with Arnold, with many mumbling agreements as Arnold stated that if the board moved students to the Larwill campus they would lose a large student population.
There were two common themes in what many people had to say: the belief that the underlying problems with enrollment need to be more heavily addressed, and there is tremendous strength in the Whitko community.
Before the vote, board member Jorell Tucker reminded the crowd that there were no winners or losers in the situation. “Tomorrow, we are Whitko … I hope there is nobody claiming any kid of victory when we are done tonight,” said Tucker.
In a 3-2 decision, with board members Eric Trump and Georgia Tenney voting against, the board voted to consolidate 7-12 grades to the South Whitley campus. Sixth graders will be divided between the two elementary schools.
Superintendent Steve Clason stated there is enough money on hand for phase one of the consolidation. Enrollment will continually be reevaluated.
As a result of the consolidation, the board also voted to not renew Whitko Middle School’s Principal Gene Sweeney and Vice Principal Monica Stoppenhagen’s contracts.