Colo-Nesco staff, students and community members weigh in on district’s future and facilities

Marlys Barker Nevada
Journal Editor

Nick Hildebrandt and Nick Nugent, both employees of StruXture architecture firm out of Waterloo, spent their afternoon and evening in the Colo-Nesco communities Nov. 1, getting feedback from students, faculty and community members about their school district.

StruXture is working with the district to determine needed facility updates, as well as possible demolition of aging buildings, as Colo-Nesco looks to the future.

In their last of six similar meetings a week ago Tuesday, Hildebrandt explained to the 10 or so residents who gathered in the Colo high school building, that the meetings, held separately with students and staff and with the community members of each town in the district, were a starting point.

“We want to get information from you that is representative of your community,” Hildebrandt said. He mentioned that, if they are asked, they could also come and do the same type of informational meeting with service groups and other interested groups in the communities.

Purposely, Hildebrandt said, there were no administrative representatives present at any of the meetings. “This is your time to tell us your dirty secrets and to air your laundry,” he said, noting that they would compile everything they were learning and give a presentation to the board and administration about what they think will be possible concerning a future bond issue for facility upgrades.

“No names are going to be written down … This is just a candid conversation about your school district,” Hildebrand assured.

Questions they asked of those at the meeting, included:

* What they are most proud of in their school district and what makes the district unique?

* What are they most concerned about in their district and with the district’s current buildings?

* How do they rate their district compared to others in the area?

* How do they see education changing in the next 10 years? And 25 years? And what is the most important 21st century skill Colo-Nesco students need?

* Finally, they wanted to know what obstacles the community would face trying to pass a bond issue?

The group in Colo shared a lot of information with Hildebrandt and Nugent.

First of all, the residents talked about the strength of a small school in providing all students with the opportunity to be involved. While they noted that bigger schools might have more opportunities, overall, they felt that every student wanting to take part in what Colo-Nesco has to offer has that opportunity because it is a smaller district. Residents advised they’d like to keep the district small, but not so small that they aren’t a viable district for the future.

Residents expressed frustration that some families come to Colo and buy a home because it’s cheaper, but never give the schools a chance. They right away take their kids to another neighboring district. They believe that even though Colo-Nesco’s facilities aren’t as impressive and are aging, that the educators and offerings of the school are wonderful, once you come inside the district and see what’s going on.

They feel that all the talk about Colo-Nesco being on its way to merging with Nevada Schools, whether there’s any truth to it or not, has also hurt their district and people’s confidence in its future. While they can appreciate some of the sharing the districts are doing with administrative positions and technology, they feel the school should be communicating much more directly about what kinds of talks are going on with Nevada or any other districts about possible mergers.

“We’ve got to put a stop to it (all the talk about merging),” one man said. “The doubts … that’s going to kill us if nothing else does.”

As far as buildings, those in Colo agreed that the older buildings in McCallsburg and Zearing should probably be demolished. They also noted major concerns about the sidewalks around many of the district’s buildings. One woman said that you don’t dare wear heals to any events, because you’ll get them stuck in a sidewalk and get hurt.

There was concern that the district try to save the gym spaces it has in the three communities. Those, they said, are always needed for both school and rec programming.

When it comes to 21st century skills and how they see education changing in coming years, one change noted was that there will likely be more distance learning, through video instruction. In fact, one man posed the question — that with all technology can do now to let people in business have meetings with others in various locations, why can’t Colo-Nesco’s students be involved in classes through technology, where they wouldn’t have to drive to other schools, but could take them through video right at their own school.

Skills for the 21st century, one woman was quick to say, “work ethic,” and that these kids need to learn they can’t be on their phones all the time. That being at work, being on time and working hard while you are there are major things for these kids to learn, and they need to learn it at home, as well as school.

When it comes to what the Colo group of people think will be the hardest thing about passing a bond issue, they first mentioned the demographic of the district — there are a lot of elderly residents who no longer have a vested interest in the schools. However, they noted that the elderly population is quite supportive of most of the things the school district does and have pride in their local school.

The other thing that will be hard to overcome, they said, is determining where new facilities should go. Each community’s residents will want to see things in their own community.

The other point of caution, one man threw into the mix, was that he wants to be sure if there are going to be facility upgrades and money is going to be spent, that the district will be viable for the long-term. There would be nothing worse, he said, than spending a lot of money and then have nice buildings sitting empty in a few years.

Hildebrandt said he appreciated all the input. The next step for StruXture is to go through all the buildings and assess them all, then to form stakeholder groups. It would be ideal, they indicated, to be able to have a bond referendum in February 2017, but they agreed that might be pushing it on the time needed to prepare.