Members of the Harvey County Conservation District believe they have an “uphill battle” in front of them — advocating for the Walton Rural Life Center.
The school, as it is now, began as a charter school nearly 10 years ago. The Kindergarten through fourth grade school incorporates agriculture across all subject levels at all grade levels. The school also uses project-based learning teaching techniques.
This past month, the Newton USD 373 Board of Education began evaluating options for a bond issue — and among those options is moving the Walton Rural Life Center, likely to within the Newton city limits south of U.S. 50.
Talk of the school going away in Walton — two of four options that would affect the Walton school move it to within the Newton city limits — has the Conservation District concerned.
“Walton Rural Life Center is a small school that has a big impact on the children who attend it, the city that it resides in, and the future adults that 'graduate' Walton,” members of the conservation board wrote in a rough draft of a letter that will be delivered to the board of education Feb. 13. “Many that would go on to pursue an education in agriculture are likely to stay in our community, and keep it thriving. Kansas is a leader in grain and animal production, to remain a leader in future years, we need a population interested and educated in agriculture along with science and technology.”
Board members told the Kansan the intent is to advocate on behalf of agricultural based education. They have not evaluated the cost of bond issue options and are not, at this time, advocating on behalf of a specific building option.
“The advantage that Walton School has on education is a gift that is helping many students thrive in their environment,” the letter states. “It is one thing to teach about planting flowers and pollination, but another to see that flower bloom because you planted it and see that flower being pollinated. It is one thing to learn about cattle and swine, but another to be responsible for feeding and caring for them, which students attending Walton are afforded.”
During a recent “Railer Roundtable,” superintendent of schools Deb Hamm told members of the public and media that the agricultural focus of the school will remain, “regardless” of where a school will be located.
The school charter is expiring this year, and school staff are rewriting the charter grant. Should that grant continue, the district would also continue both project-based learning and the agricultural emphasis. District officials have consulted with the City of Newton concerning possible zoning issues surrounding the placement of a barn with animals within the city. Hamm told The Kansan the district has been assured that the agricultural school could continue within the city limits.
Still, the concern remains, which according to members of the Conservation District board led to the crafting of a letter to the Board of Education.
The Conservation District has helped plan, design and deliver curriculum at the school for the past four years.
Josh Budde of Newton, board treasurer, presented the letter to members of the district at the organization's annual meeting this week. He and board members Dwayne Roux of Newton, Jed Claassen of Newton, Andy Lowe of Newton, Mark Klaassen of Newton and Dana Stahl of Hesston will review the rough draft before delivering the letter to the Board of Education next week.