During a special meeting of the Newton USD 373 board of education this week there was a ton of discussion about the future of schools — and about possible bond issues to come as early as April of this year.
That discussion was the culmination of months and months of "strategic" and "comprehensive" planning. The full document is online at https://www.newton373.org/.
Within the document are a number of options when it comes to facilities — so many that it can be dizzying. Just take a look at the options for Walton Rural Life Center — that alone is confusion.
One option available to the district under the plan is to provide Walton with a brand new building — and expand the number of grade levels taught. Currently Walton Rural Life Center is a Kindergarten through fourth-grade school, just like every other elementary in the district. Unlike every other elementary in the district, Walton is a charter school. It is also a themed school. There is intense use of "project-based learning" at the school. That has saved the school, once struggling with enrollment there are now waiting lists to gain entry.
Under what is called "Option 6 — K-8 Walton," the school would add grades five through eight. That would relieve some of the pressure felt at Santa Fe 5/6 center and Chisholm Middle School.
And it would appear to be a really good move by the district. That option would preserve the rural life focus and project-based learning at a school that parents have embraced, while also solving capacity issues at other schools.
However, it is not the only option listed in the document. Another dramatic option is to build a new K-4 school south of U.S. 50 and closing Walton down. This option would respond to growth on the south side of the community, which is something needed and has been discussed by the Board of Education for years.
While that plan has merit, it is not one we can embrace. We truly believe shuttering Walton is a mistake.
Walton Elementary has been routinely left out of bond issues over the years. That does not mean improvements have not been made throughout the last decade — however the school has been left with serious issues that have been unaddressed and temporary classrooms to deal with current enrollments. Building a new school on the south side and closing Walton seems like an easy way to deal with elementary school enrollments — but it at first blush does not seem like the best option. Expanding the grade levels at Walton would allow for students to experience the school for a longer time frame, and solve issues in grade five through eight district wide.
— Kansan Editorial Board