NEW: SURVEY SHOWS OVERWHELMING SUPPORT FOR DISCUSSIONS
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
A survey made available to Freeman Public School District patrons this fall generated overwhelming support for school leadership to engage in dialogue with neighboring districts regarding both athletic cooperation and school consolidation.
That’s what the Freeman School Board learned at its regular monthly meeting last Wednesday, Oct. 20, as members of a task force established to explore the idea of partnership presented the results of the survey. In response, the school board unanimously voted to have Superintendent Jake Tietje send letters of inquiry to neighboring school districts, and also to keep the task force in place as discussions evolve.
Tietje told The Courier the districts receiving letters are Canistota, Marion, Menno and Freeman Academy.
In each of the survey’s four questions posed about cooperation, consolidation, and the idea that a move might mean a jump from Class B to Class A, those in favor of continuing the conversation ranged from 82 to 85%.
There were 336 surveys submitted either in paper form or online — about a 20 percent return.
“It’s clear there’s a strong positive response from the community for considering any and all without much concern about what kind of impact that might have on the classification of sports teams,” Jill Aanenson, a member of the task force, told the board in presenting the findings last week. “You’d love to have more than (20%), but that sounds like an average general election around here.
“I think the people who care very much are from whom we heard.”
Students in grades 8-11 were also asked to fill out an identical survey that generated 83 responses — much closer to 100% because they completed the survey while in class.
The students were much more divided in how they answered the questions, with the biggest gap in percentage coming in response to the question of, “Would you like the Freeman Public School District to discuss potential school consolation with area schools?”
The answer: 64% no, 36% yes.
Lily Wipf, a senior, school council president and member of the task force, shed light on the students’ perspective at last week’s meeting.
“Consolidation is a really scary word, especially in a small school, and rightfully so,” Wipf told the board. “We really value our classes, and to think about having another school, another 10, 15 students, just come in, that’s a very scary idea for students.
“It’s just a very personal thing, and that shows in these stats,” she continued, but also acknowledged that her peers don’t necessarily see the overall perspective and bigger picture.
Aanenson spoke to the students’ voice and the district’s responsibility to acknowledge it and pay attention to it as it relates to the bigger picture.
“We feel this is a strong response,” she said of the results of the survey. “It tells you as a school board a story, and the other story it tells us is that it’s going to be really important to keep the students involved in the process. Transparency needs to exist, not just across our taxpayer platform, but we really need to make sure we’re listening to our students and educating them to make sure they understand what this means.”
Transparency has been important to the entire process, Becca Schultz, another member of the task force, told the board last Wednesday.
She also said it was vital that people had the opportunity to weigh in.
“We felt giving the students and community autonomy with their thoughts and concerns was very important,” she said, which is what led the task force to develop and implement the survey. “It is our sincere belief that the community and the students had the opportunity to be heard.”
After the meeting, Tietje told The Courier it was impossible to know what the next six to 12 months was going to look like.
“That’s really hard to say,” he said, noting that the districts Freeman Public is reaching out to will likely have their own process to go through, and that could take some time.
“The important part is that we take our time — that we do it right,” Tietje said. “We don’t want to rush things and miss steps. We want to make sure we do due diligence, take our time and make the best decision we can.”
As for the process that has unfolded over the course of three short months, the superintendent couldn’t be more pleased.
“We know what our community wants,” he said. “Looking at the timeframe in which we were able to put this together, it really is quite impressive. This is a very talented group of people working hard to see what we as a community want and what the district’s next steps should be.
“We’ve done our part,” he continued. “I don’t know what the timeframe looks like, but we will take the next six to 12 months as they come.”
For more from the meeting, watch the YouTube video; a link appears with this story at freemansd.com.