While Iowa considers a proposal to combine smaller school districts into large ones, it should consider the education and life of Ron Olson.
Yes, yes, there are no doubt some inefficiencies with smaller schools in Iowa. And as a resident of the county seat of Carroll, I’ve often wondered if would make sense to fold some of the area schools into our district, as the state legislature and the state school board are now considering.
By the numbers, K-12 consolidation, voluntary or forced, would seem logical many places in Iowa. But having spent a great deal of time in small schools in Carroll and Story counties, there is an intangible value associated with these environments, the seamless connections they provide between classroom and home and town.
Many of the successful Iowa natives I’ve profiled over the last decade graduated from small schools. Take, for instance, Ron Olson, 67, born in Carroll and raised in Manilla, a son of an insurance salesman-broker. He is a lawyer at Munger, Tolles & Olson, the Los Angeles firm that American Lawyer magazine just named the best in the nation. He’s also a trustee of financier Warren Buffett’s estate.
Olson graduated from Manilla High School in 1959. “I did all the things you do in small-town schools — played all the sports, band, chorus, and even an opera, ” Olson said. “It was a great opportunity. It was like having the whole town rooting for you. Ever since I’ve had the same feeling — a feeling that the whole town has continued to root for me.”
Critics will say that was a half century ago when far different demographics prevailed. But what Olson told me in an interview last fall holds true today. Our national character demands that we send some people into the general population — to fight our wars and serve in Congress — who hail from small schools.
Small schools deserve strong advocacy as does the state’s history of local control in education if the Iowa Legislature takes up the matter. It appears that might just happen. State Sen, Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, plans to introduce legislation forcing rapid school consolidations.
McCoy may have some valid points but he’s the wrong messenger on this one as he comes across as decidedly anti-rural. McCoy claims he doesn’t want to punish the rural school districts but one gets that distinct sense he’s not all that worried about us. Remember who he represents.
Rural legislators are fighting back. “A state legislator says we can’t maintain this inefficiency anymore, and I want to know what that inefficiency is since our graduation rates in northwest Iowa are much higher than they are in Des Moines,” said Sen. David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan who took to the microphone in the Iowa Senate Tuesday morning, according to the Des Moines Register. “Our student achievement scores are much higher than they are in Des Moines.”