June 16, 2024

Keeping the dogs in the house

ORIENT - Four Orient-Macksburg High School students went to school to learn about their school.

Logann Carson, Christa Cass, Tyson Ross and Emily Campbell spent the past month in Kendra Breitsprecher’s college composition 2 class researching and asking about what people thought about the school district and included ideas how the school can have a viable future. A presentation of their findings titled “Keeping the dogs in the house” was Tuesday. Orient-Macksburg’s mascot is the bulldogs.

“We four students decided to take a deep dive into the short-term future into Orient-Macksburg,” said Carson.

The presentation featured three topics; money, manpower and marketing. Research and survey questions sent to people online in the district were approved by the school board. Their findings and suggestions were for the school during the next two to five school years and what the school can do for its future. Thirty-six surveys were returned.

“How many of you have heard Orient-Macksburg is going to close down in the past 10 years,” Carson said. “So has everybody else,” she responded to those who raised their hand. “We’ve all been hearing it for so long.”

Carson said comments have implied the district has been on the “brink of disaster” for decades.

“Whether you accept that premise or not, the fact remains O-M is a viable, K-12 school today and will continue to be one next year and perhaps for years to come,” Carson said.

Declining enrollment, which has been noted for many rural Iowa school districts is a talking point. This year Orient-Macksburg has 88 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Their research showed Diagonal in Ringgold County is smaller by three students. Carson, Cass and Ross are seniors. Campbell is a junior.

Carson noted the number of students living in the Orient-Macksburg district who have enrolled in a neighboring district. Extra-curricular activities and staff were mentioned as reasons why students were attending other schools.

Economy

The students used a visual; using water as money and a bucket for how Orient-Macksburg can acquire and keep money.

The research suggested additional efforts for acquiring operational funds for the school outside of the traditional taxes and state funds. The efforts would be to create a foundation, grants and restructuring the agreement with Nodaway Valley school district. Orient-Macksburg students attend Nodaway Valley for certain classes.

School administration plans to begin promoting creating a foundation called Dog Days. Educational foundations typically act as charitable benefactors, raising funds for scholarships and grants. An event promoting an Orient-Macksburg foundation is tentatively scheduled to be held in June during the school’s annual softball tournament. This year’s tournament is expected to begin promoting the creation of a foundation. Campbell said it is possible if the idea gets enough support the foundation will formally begin in June 2024.

“Alumni will be excited to come back with their checkbooks,” Campbell said. Foundations have also been supported by family wills and estates.

During this school year, Orient-Macksburg received three STEM awards to benefit next year’s students.

One the Discover Drones Award. This award, a $7,500 classroom kit includes five drones to be built and customized by the students. The kit includes lessons in building, training, flying and racing the drones. Tiny TechiesSM will help students build computational thinking and problem-solving skills, be creative and practice working together. Storytime Stempacks are for the youngest Bulldogs in Prekindergarten-second grade. This program integrates math, science, engineering and computer science. These three awards are in addition to a $40,000 grant the high school received to combine the teaching of geometry with construction.

Another suggestion is to have Nodaway Valley students attend classes at Orient-Macksburg not available to them. The sharing agreement with Nodaway Valley uses the $7,413 per student from the state. Having Nodaway Valley students attend Orient-Macksburg would shift a portion of Nodaway Valley’s student income to Orient-Macksburg.

“It’s about the Benjamins,” Campbell said.

Staffing and students

Cass said 91 students open-enroll out of the Orient-Macksburg district this year. Another 46 open-enroll into Orient-Macksburg including Cass and her sister who are from the East Union district.

“If we can convince those students to come back,” Cass said.

Creston is the most popular school for students living in Orient-Macksburg to enroll. Cass said that number this year is about 60 but about 30 students enroll in Orient-Macksburg. Cass said Orient-Macksburg has more students from Nodaway Valley than those enrolling there.

Cass said 75% of parents who send their children elsewhere would consider returning to Orient-Macksburg.

“O-M administration and school board members need to knock on some doors and ask some questions,” she said. “People like to feel wanted and when we show them the facts instead of the rumors returning to O-M looks like a much better option than the pain of driving to another school.”

Cass said bring back a few kids won’t solve all the problems, “But it’s a $7,000 drop in our bucket each time a kid comes back.” She said an increase of just nine students would be enough to fund one teacher’s pay.

Cass said a misconception people may have of Orient-Macksburg is the staff is young and inexperienced. Teachers for seventh through 12th grade are new to the school this year, but “it’s not their first rodeo.”

Another suggestion is to increase certification for all of Orient-Macksburg’s paraprofessionals to be more effective.

Marketing

Ross said the demographic of the Orient-Macksburg staff can be ways to increase and change the public’s interest in the district. He said average teacher in Iowa has been in a classroom for 14 years. He said there is only one Orient-Macksburg teacher who has less than 10 years experience.

Orient-Macksburg’s elementary teacher-student ratio is 1-to-9. The Iowa average is 1-to-14.

“This offers a wonderful opportunity for young children to really bloom with close, loving adult supervision and encouragement,” he said. Orient-Macksburg High students also have access to Southwestern Community College in Creston.

The research shows additional extra-curricular activities from sports, where Orient-Macksburg would field more of its own teams, to a theater program would be a positive image boost for the district.

“What we have tried to do is examine the facts to see what the future of O-M might look like. We encountered a lot of rumors and a lot of emotion. It showed up people do care about this issue. People in this district with or without kids care about O-M,” Carson said.

John Van Nostrand

JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.