Board members and administrators of the Cherokee and Aurelia districts came together Wednesday night at the Cherokee Middle School library to discuss potential cooperation between the districts.
This was the second part of an initiative by the Aurelia School Board to explore possible sharing opportunities. The Aurelia board and administrators met with their counterparts in Alta in November.
Aurelia had a significant drop in enrollment this school year, 25 students, to bring its official enrollment down to 311. There are reportedly more students who have come into the school system during this school year, but the official enrollment, taken on the third Friday in September in districts throughout the state, is the number used for official purposes for the year.
Cherokee also had a significant loss of students, down 35 students, numerically higher than the loss in Aurelia but not as high in terms of percentage. This year's enrollment is 1,052.
During a power point presentation regarding the demographics, facilities, standardized test scores, activities and academic offerings, John Chalstrom, superintendent of the Cherokee District, said that projections from the Iowa Department of Education has the enrollment holding fairly steady over the next several years.
Both the Cherokee and Aurelia Districts have average standardized test scores in math and reading above the state trajectory (improvement rate established as part of No Child Left Behind legislation) for the three benchmark grades of 4, 8 and 11.
Aurelia students have used the vocational agriculture program in Cherokee, although there are not currently any Aurelia students in voc ag. Washington High School students have taken A+ computer and child development courses in Aurelia.
Tom Vint, superintendent of the Aurelia District, indicated that the big priority now is in providing the vocational courses.
When asked how the vocational programs are going in the Cherokee District, Larry Hunecke, WHS principal, said that enrollment is down for the second year in voc ag while industrial tech, family consumer science and business education remain strong programs.
Regarding activities, Aurelia has a specific problem in middle school this year and likely next year. The seventh grade has only 12 students, only three of them are boys.
There was discussion of advanced placement and college credit course offerings. Both districts have options for students to take courses at Western Iowa Tech, either for vocational classes or college level academic courses.
Both districts have Iowa Communication Network (ICN) rooms for remote learning options. However, Chalstrom indicated that the ICN is limited in terms of the kind of courses that can be effectively taught with it.
"The ICN is not the tool for secondary education that it was once thought it would be," Chalstrom said.
Regarding the possibility of shared extracurricular activities and the concern that students from a smaller school would have less opportunity for participation when joined with a bigger school, Chalstrom said that the school has a no cut policy. Any student who wants to participate will participate.
"Cherokee is not that big. A student won't get lost in a hallway. A student won't get lost on a team," Kirk Ebel, Cherokee board member, said.
Both districts have eight periods in the day but the schedules don't precisely match. Dan Winterhof indicated that if there is shared individual programs, it might be more efficient for the teachers to travel between towns rather than the students.
Ebel raised the big question of whole grade sharing. He asked whether the Aurelia District would consider a situation in which each district maintained a separate elementary school while the middle schools and high schools from both districts combined.
Kirk Nelson, Aurelia Board president, said, "We're not ruling anything out at this point. We've got some difficult decisions to make."