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EDITORIAL

A school is the heart of a community

Thursday, August 28, 2014 - 12:01 am

In our yearning for uniformity, let's not forget individuality.

The citizens of Dugger, a town of about 900 in southwestern Indiana, have made a heroic effort to save their school. It’s an example the education elite in this country should study, because it illustrates something important about schools they seem in danger of forgetting.

The town was told several months ago it was losing its public schools to consolidation because of declining enrollment. No, not here, not now, town residents said. “It’s history,” said volunteer Marsha Fisher, “and if we lose our school we lose our town, and we don’t want to do that.”

So the volunteers gained access to the old Union High School and Dugger Elementary School buildings and started a partnership with the Indiana Cyber Charter School to operate Dugger Union Community School, a K-12 facility that will combine online learning with face-to-face instruction for 300 students.

And they went hunting for money. the Indiana Rail Road, which has operations there, pledged $50,000. The Indianapolis Colts kicked in $3,500 up front and pledged to be an ongoing sponsor. BSN Sports donated football uniforms and $3,000 in Nike gear. And there were checks from individuals for $25 and $50 and $100. A $1945 graduate gave $10,000, and the mother of one Dugger school booster gave $12,000.

They decided they needed a school because “if the school dies, the town dies,” and they did it. A school is more than just a building where students learn what they need to know to succeed at the next level, whether college or the workforce. It can be the focus of community energy and identity, the very glue that holds everything else together.

We know something about that here. Schools at one time were the heart and soul of Fort Wayne neighborhoods. But when magnet schools were created as a way to encourage racial diversity, what neighborhood a school was in was suddenly less important. Students from all over the city could end up in a given school.

That’s what the education experts are missing. They are rightly concerned about standards, making sure that any student anywhere in the country has the chance to master what should be mastered. But each school is unique and offers something precious and unique to its community. In our pursuit of uniformity — the same standards, the same curricula, the same approach to learning — let’s not lose sight of individuality.