Thursday, July 9, 2009

Last bell rings in Ocheyedan

OCHEYEDAN—Amidst heavy boxes packed full with textbooks, supplies and educational materials, the scene did not appear much different than a last day of school anywhere.

Maybe the excited fourth-graders roaming the empty hallways singing Alice Cooper’s infamous “School’s Out” made it seem more real.

Only, school is not just out for the summer at Ocheyedan Elementary. Like Cooper sang in his hit 1972 single, school’s out forever.

The Sibley-Ocheyedan School District Board of Education voted 4-1 in favor of closing the Ocheyedan facility on April 20. The decision was based on decreasing enrollment and financial concerns.

At the April board meeting, superintendent Jeff Herzberg said enrollment drives school budgets. The district receives about $5,400 in state aid for every student. The district saw a decline of 45 students for the 2008-09 academic year, creating a loss of about $240,000 in its budget.

“We weren’t ready to lose 45 students this year. We thought we’d be down five or even up a little,” Herzberg told the more than 100 district residents in attendance. “We know we’re also going to lose about 30 students from the senior/kindergarten exchange next school year.”

He said a mobile society is partially to blame for the declining enrollment. Sixteen families with three or more students moved out of the district prior to the start of classes last fall.

That drop is an issue that the Iowa Department of Education predicts the district will continue to deal with in the near future. Besides the number of students lost between this year’s graduating seniors and next year’s incoming kindergartners, projections show the district enrollment dropping by about 50 more students over the next five years.

Herzberg cited a number of reasons the district would save money by closing the Ocheyedan site. He said having the building open will cost the district about $143,000 this year. Closing the building will save the district an estimated $106,500, and if the school were to have remained open, the district likely would have been forced to spend $90,000 to repair a boiler.

Although many Ocheyedan residents were not pleased with the decision, it still became a reality Friday, May 29, as both the students and the teachers prepared for the move to Ben Franklin Elementary in Sibley.

“It’s been a crazy week,” said fourth-grade teacher Kate Wedge.

Although the students were excited to embark on their summer vacations, Wedge said they were anxious to help her box up her belongings during the last week of school.

Jill Menke, who joined the fourth-grade staff at Ocheyedan at the beginning of the school year, is looking forward to the move, although she would be moving regardless of the school closure, as she is switching from fourth to first grade.

Nevertheless, Menke still thinks the change will be good for the elementary students.

“It’s isolated over here, so it will be good to have everyone together in one building,” she said. “Everyone will be able to learn from each other that way.”

Wedge anticipates the new environment and learning process will take a little getting used to, but she looks forward to the challenge.

“It will be nice to have other teachers to collaborate with, but I think it will be an easy transition for the teachers,” she said.

No official plans have been decided upon for the Ocheyedan building.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet moment for all of us,” said Sibley-Ocheyedan elementary principal Cory Jenness. “They’re sad because the school is closing, yet they’re glad they are going to a new building with more staff members, collaboration and resources at hand.”

This article appeared in the June 6, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.

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