Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

April 3, 2014

Phil Power: Schools must work together

When I was just a kid, way back in the 1940s, the convenient shorthand for what we did in school was the Three R’s: “Readin’, Ritin’ and Rithmetic.”

Currriculums have changed quite a bit since then. However, the realities of how schools operate have changed even more, especially the aftermath of the Great Recession and continuing turmoil in the world of Michigan school finance. Today, in many places, it’s more like the Three C’s: “Collaboration, Consolidation, or Closure.”

This was wonderfully spelled out in Senior Writer Ron French’s remarkable article, “13 Miles To Marshall,” published March 25 in the Center For Michigan’s online Bridge Magazine. http://bridgemi.com/2014/03/13-miles-to-marshall-part-1-the-bus-ride-tough-times-lead-very-different-high-schools-to-merge/

In four beautifully written and intensely reported chapters, the piece describes the brave, emotionally charged journey of two Calhoun County communities that decided to collaborate in merging their high schools.

Marshall and Albion are separated by just 13 miles on the map but by far more in history, race and culture. Marshall is a mostly middle class white town with beautifully restored 19th century homes gracing wide streets. Racially mixed Albion, to the east, is a grittier place, where the factory jobs of 50 years ago have largely evaporated and times are much tougher. Closing any high school is a very big deal; it strikes to a community’s shared history and identity, its stature as a “place” amid the sprawl of nothingness.

Closing Albion High School and busing more than 150 lower-income and mostly black kids to a majority white Marshall High seemed on the surface to be an exercise in racially and educationally-charged futility.

But the financial logic was compelling. Over the years, Albion’s enrollment had fallen off, with many local kids (and their $7,000 per-pupil state founding grant money) leaving for neighboring districts.

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