Monday, October 19, 2015

Rural SOS: Des Moines Register documentary focuses on rising number of shuttered rural schools

The plight of one shuttered rural school has been captured in a documentary by The Des Moines Register as part of year-long project to highlight the continued struggles of America's rural schools. The documentary "is a window into the 4,315 other Iowa school districts that have been permanently closed since 1950," Jason Clayworth and Rodney White report for the Register. "It’s also a wakeup call, some say, to the state’s remaining 336 public school districts. Rural Iowa—and most of rural America for that matter—is sending an SOS with each closed school, they say." (Register photo: Rippey Elementary School in Rippey, Iowa was torn down in 2014)

Jon Hueser, superintendent of the district whose high school was the focus of the documentary, told the Register, "I probably have 12 or 14 years of being a (superintendent), and this probably won’t be the last building that I close . . . You talk about the plight of the farmers back in the 1980s when farm prices crashed, but there’s a problem in rural Iowa now.”

In Iowa the rate of rural residents has fallen from 75 percent in 1900 to a little more than 33 percent in 2010, writes Clayworth and White. "Nationally during that span, the percentage of rural residents fell from 60 percent to less than 20 percent." Since 1930 the U.S. has lost 100,000 school districts, dropping the overall total to less than 20,000. (Best Places map: The school that is the subject of the documentary is in Corwith, Iowa.)

"Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson believes there’s no turning back," writes Clayworth and White. He told the Register, “It’s not just the economic erosion—it’s the erosion in social capital. It’s the ability to get things done, count on social leadership, to facilitate any kind of innovation in allocation of community resources. All of that has eroded at a very slow but fixed pace over this time period, and it’s not going to change.”

The documentary premiered on Sunday in Des Moines and will be shown this week on Iowa Public Television. (Read more)

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