NEW RICHLAND-HARTLAND-ELLENDALE-GENEVA AREA

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I’ve had a number of people comment to me recently, “I suppose I know how you’ll vote,” regarding the upcoming NRHEG bond referendum. I’ve made up my mind, but it was by no means an automatic decision just because I’m employed by the school district.

When the information for the additions and renovations to the school buildings in New Richland and Ellendale were first announced, I sat down to look at this from three perspectives: my job, my children, and my community. Would this benefit those parts of my life enough to add more on my tax burden?

First, my job. In reality, the only thing that impacts anything I do for the district is acoustic improvements. Certainly, a new gym would boast a great sound system and acoustics that would allow people to hear and understand me during athletic contests. Plus, having assemblies in the revamped space where we now have the varsity gym would help when I have the microphone, especially our school spelling bee. Other than that, my main job as an English teacher is not impacted.

Second, my kids. This will have a larger impact. By the time it’s done, Anton will be in New Richland and will be able to join Jayna in enjoying the new science facilities, fitness center, and the aforementioned area in which they will perform for concerts and plays. This part is huge. We have so many students who show success in the fine arts, but have a worn-out athletic area in which to perform. If you’ve ever attended a concert or play, you know the problem. That space simply was not designed for those performances, and that’s a shame. I look forward to hearing the full impact of a solo at a concert or a soaring monologue at a play.

It’s too bad the changes to the Ellendale building couldn’t have occurred while my kids were there. The additional classroom space will open up more opportunities for all our students with the SMART room, music area, and the possibility of incorporating a gifted and talented program, something I’ve advocated for over the years. We spend so much time working with those who truly need help to read and perform math at grade level, but we don’t spend enough time with those who are well ahead of the curve, who also need additional support to keep achieving at that high level. In addition, the secure entry by the office is, unfortunately, vital in today’s society to protect all our future assets, our wonderful children.

Lastly, my community. I love our school community and the towns which comprise it. The people here are so caring and generous with others in times of need and good friends no matter the situation. Our communities remain strong, even through economic ups and downs. A large part of this is the strong school system embodied at NRHEG. So many people come out to support our students at extracurricular events, including sports and the fine arts. We see some senior citizens helping kids at the elementary site. People who don’t have kids or grandkids in the system will ask questions and read the paper to find out what’s going on. (I can’t tell you how many people have asked me if I needed any more ties this year!)

To keep our communities strong, we need to continue to strengthen the school. Are we in a difficult spot now? Certainly not, but the beginnings of wear and tear are showing. The gym is over a half century old, and many other school areas are in that range. Would you allow your house to go that long without change? Even the 25 years since the last major renovation are a longer time period than most of us would be comfortable with if we didn’t make at least some change. I’d rather not get to a point other schools have reached (USC and WEM come to mind) where change is an absolute must. It costs less to nip things in the bud than it does to fix or build everything brand new. And by keeping our school strong, our communities will remain strong, and everyone benefits from that, even if you don’t have any relatives in the buildings. If our school starts to fail, we will be negatively impacted by that.

A concern was raised in this paper about why we need expanded space. There is a point to having so much technology and a change in the style of teaching, but that only means we need more space. To individualize education more than the old-school lecture and test style, we need areas in which to move students around in smaller groups to meet their needs. There is no longer a one size fits all mentality. The focus of so many teachers is seeing growth in each student. For that to happen, more space is needed.

And of course there’s the money issue. I look at my tax forms each year, just like all of you. I always hope it will go down, but that’s rarely the case. Full disclosure: this referendum would add about $44 a year on to my taxes. Plus, I can look out my front window and see the construction on my street; this will cost me $600 a year in assessments. I like to break this down by month. If I add these together, I have to find ways to save less than $54 a month to cover these new taxes. Can I do that? Sure, and I’m betting most of you can find that too, especially if your street isn’t being redone!

Everyone’s tax burden and home situation is different. I looked at all aspects of this bond referendum before making the decision to vote yes. I take our school system very seriously, not just because I teach, not just because my kids are here, but mainly because I have chosen to call NRHEG my home. I care about the future here, even after my kids have graduated and I have retired. I hope you care enough to join me in voting yes on June 9. Thank you for joining in the democratic process.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is nunatak, the final word in the National Spelling Bee, which means an exposed rocky part of a ridge or mountain not covered with ice or snow, as in, “The spelling bee contestant didn’t even have to ask the definition to spell nunatak correctly.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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