The North Central Parke Community Schools Corporation will undergo big changes in the coming months. The school board recently voted to consolidate Turkey Run and Rockville junior-senior high schools, with one serving as a junior high and the other as a high school.The move will save the district a significant amount of money.
It’s a challenge many of Indiana’s rural districts are facing as enrollment continues to decline.
Superintendent: Consolidation Of Schools Necessary
The North Central Parke Community Schools Corporation sits in the middle of Parke County, a small rural area in west-central Indiana. It’s a community with a large farming industry and a growing Amish population.
But, like many small communities throughout the state, Parke County’s schools are struggling.
“Over the past probably 30 years, there has been a declining enrollment in our school system,” says Thomas Rohr, the superintendent for the school district. “At one time, there were two separate school corporations. There was Rockville community schools and there was Turkey Run community schools.”
The amount of declining enrollment caused the two school corporations to consolidate into one. It allowed the corporation to keep two, separate junior senior high schools open while cutting administrative costs in half.
But Rohr says it was clear the schools couldn’t operate independently for much longer.
“With only 1,200 students in k-12, it makes it, again, very difficult to offer the kinds of programs we wanted to offer,” Rohr says.
He believes combining the schools will open up many opportunities for maximizing resources and ultimately providing more for their students. And many teachers support the consolidation.
“I teach five different [classes], which is difficult as a high school teacher,” says Samantha Woodard, who teaches at Rockville Junior-Senior High School. “That’s pretty much the norm for the entire building now. So we’re hoping with the consolidation that we can specialize a little bit more, and be able to offer more classes for the kids too.”
Rural Schools Struggle To Grapple With Declining Enrollment
More districts across the state are considering options like consolidation as they seek significant cuts to their budgets. 19 percent of the school districts in Indiana serve 1,000 students or less. For them, determining the best path forward is often complicated by strong emotions from the community.
“The focal point of many small rural communities is their school. It’s a great sense of pride, it has a history, it’s a part of that community culture,” says Scott Turney, the executive director of the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association.
“The focal point of many small rural communities is their school.”
Turney says each situation is unique, but consolidation is sometimes the best way to serve students in rural communities.
“We’ve looked at a lot of different ways, along with these collaborations, that we can be more efficient and ways to save money,” Turney says. “And so we try everything we can to continue the setting that we have currently, until it’s just at a point where people see it needs to change.”
But some parents in Parke County aren’t convinced consolidation here will result in all of the benefits the district is touting.
“Right now it appears to be more of a reorganization than a consolidation,” says mother Lori Brown, whose daughter goes to Rockville High School. “All of the buildings are staying open, doesn’t appear that there’s any cuts, so it doesn’t look like a whole lot has changed other than we’re going to be moving a lot of kids around.”
The North Central Parke Community Schools Corporation is also considering consolidating elementary schools in the district, redirecting students to one of their two buildings depending on their corresponding township.