The true price of school consolidation

By: 
Doreen Heintz
Sports Editor

While driving home from Great Falls about a week ago, I noticed the Moccasin School building is pretty much caved in. I imagine one of the spring snowstorms finally put too much weight on the flat roof of the building.
Every time I drive through Moccasin the school building is a reminder of some of the best times of my life. I fondly reminisce about a special time from over 50 years ago.
The Moccasin School closed completely following the 1966-67 school year when a vote by the Moccasin community overwhelmingly approved consolidating with the Stanford School District. The last class to graduate from Moccasin was in 1966. In the fall of 1966, most of the Moccasin students in grades 7-12 were transported to Stanford. Grades 1-6 students attended school in Moccasin for one more year.
Prior to the Moccasin-Stanford consolidation, Moore, Hobson and Moccasin had some talks about building a new high school. At the time, all three schools had very small gymnasiums. Rumor had it that someone even donated land near Eddies Corner where the new high school could be located. Of course, that never happened.
Now almost 50 years later, Moore and Hobson are again talking consolidation. I applaud their efforts. Even though I have not attended any of the meetings between the two school districts, I think by keeping everything transparent during those meetings it is being done the right way.
The consolidation of school districts is never pleasant, but I think the most important thing to consider with consolidation is renaming the consolidated school. Whether the high school is in Hobson or Moore, it needs to have a new identity.
When we went to Stanford, we lost our identity as the Moccasin Indians. And though we did, over time, come to feel like Stanford Wolves, the process was not a fun time for the Moccasin students. I cannot remember the number of times I was told by “Stanford” students they did not really want the “Moccasin” students in their school.
I know the co-oping of sports teams in Montana has certainly slowed down the issue of consolidation in Montana. One thing I think co-ops have taught us is the most successful ones are those whose identity has changed. Once the Bulldogs, Tigers and Tigers became the Titans, the students came together with the new identity. The same is true for the Wranglers, Wolves and Trojans. I know it has been hard for many of the “old” timers not to be able to cheer for their Wranglers, Wolves and Trojans, but the students have truly become Bearcats.  I believe the same is true when two or more schools come together through consolidation.
I think the best example is what we have seen on the Hi-Line for the past many years. Kremlin and Gildford came together to be known as K-G High School, while the combining of  Rudyard and Hingham became Blue Sky High School. Joplin and Inverness combined to form J-I High School. Next KG and Blue Sky consolidated and are now known as North Star High School. I would be willing to bet many people can’t even tell you what town the high school is now located in.
Chester, Joplin and Inverness have combined to form Chester-Joplin-Inverness High School (quite a mouthful), although one will see them listed as CJI High School many times. I have heard the consolidation between these three communities has not been as easy as when the four communities came together to form North Star. Of course, there may be other factors I am unaware of that have contributed to the “not as easy” consolidation. The consolidation between Brady and Dutton also had problems, although they are now known as Dutton-Brady High School.
There are many reasons school districts are consolidating. Many small rural schools just lack enough students to keep the doors open any longer. When and if consolidation does occur, let’s remember it is the kids who have the toughest adjustment to make and will ultimately determine if it is a positive experience. Let’s try to make the process as easy as possible.
 

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