Parkview's history is in three communities; its future could be in one
Geography has divided the Parkview School District through the years, and the fiscally conservative residents have voted down numerous building referendums.
Now, the school board is asking district residents to come together and make tough decisions forced by dropping enrollments and shrinking revenue.
A committee studying the future of the district likely will make a recommendation next month to the school board. On the table are options to close Newark and Footville elementary schools and build an addition onto Orfordville Elementary, or move all elementary students to the current junior/senior high and build a new school.
Enrollment has dropped from 1,046 in 2008 to 967 in January 2011. It's projected to continue dropping to 874 students by 2015. This fall's enrollment numbers were not yet available.
The rural school district is the largest geographically in Rock County, encompassing about 125 square miles, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.
But because of the importance of the elementary schools in each of the three communities—Orfordville, Footville and Newark Township—it's often been difficult for residents to think of the district as a whole.
It was "quite an ordinary thing" when John Abrahamson was growing up for residents to support construction at their own school but be leery of work at other schools in the district, he said. Abrahamson graduated in 1969 from Parkview and worked 34 years as a teacher and principal in the district. His dad served on the school board for 16 years.
"There was this feeling of, 'Wait a minute, is this fair? We have to kind of stand up for our own school as well,'" he said of feelings in each community. "So there was always a difficulty trying to get things passed because some people may not vote for it because" they felt it wouldn't benefit their kids.
One-room schoolhouses scattered around southwestern Rock County served rural students from first through eighth grades until the state pushed for consolidation in the late 1950s.
Back then, students could choose which high school to attend, and many kids in what is now the Parkview district went to Evansville, Brodhead, Beloit or Janesville.
Parkview started as Joint School District No. 4, and the high school was a now-demolished, three-story, red brick building at the site of the current Orfordville Elementary.
During the same period, the Newark Consolidated School District built a four-classroom Newark school in 1959 to replace three one-room schoolhouses.
"The school building in the Newark School District was really kind of a community effort," said Ted Uber, whose dad, Cy, was on the school board and a principal at a Beloit school.
He said people in the township donated time and services to build the school, which received additions in 1963 and 1990.
"That's why there's such a strong feeling" about Newark, said Uber, 71, who still lives in the township. "The irony is our district had a great number of children down there, and that's why it was done."
A final consolidation folded Newark and Footville into Joint District No. 4 in the 1960s.
Then came the decision of where to build a new high school.
"This was a thing that really was divisive in the district," Abrahamson said. "Certainly, many people in Footville felt the high school should be built in Footville. There were people in Hanover that felt like it wouldn't be a bad location to have it there."
The Class of 1965 was the first to graduate from Parkview High School, a name chosen because it overlooks the nearby park. The district took the Parkview name in spring 1976, when state law required district names to reflect the areas they served.
As enrollment grew, the district needed to add space.
"Over the course of the history of our district, it has been very difficult to get any type of addition, and then you start adding three to four classrooms on the elementary at a time, instead of what you really need," Abrahamson said.
The district tried repeatedly to build a new junior/senior high school, including in the 1970s. After a couple failed tries, the district added what Abrahamson called a "pole shed," which consisted of a large room with classes separated by bookshelves and portable blackboards. That addition now is the library in the junior high, he said.
Abrahamson was hired as a seventh-grade geography teacher and started teaching in a portable classroom at the old high school. The portable classroom—bought in 1968 and used first at Newark—still is in use at the junior/senior high.
"I don't know what they paid for it at the time, but certainly it's been a bargain," he said.
The district is conservative, former administrators say, and lacks industry.
"Obviously, they don't like to see their taxes go up," said Gloria Yaun, a retired district teacher and elementary principal of 27 years. "I still think it's probably the diversity of the three different communities."
"It's this mindset of what we have is enough," Abrahamson said. "It's been good enough for me, we'll get by. I think that is the attitude."
But he also thinks residents have never trusted the school board—always wondering, "Are they trying to close a building?"
Closing Newark Elementary has been discussed numerous times in recent decades.
Five of the seven current school board members live in Newark Township.
"Sometimes because of the factionalism of our district, it is difficult to get everybody to agree and have trust," Abrahamson said.
Newark Town Chairman David Grenawalt, whose dad served on the school board when he was a kid, thinks people can't afford to build more.
"We've got schools now, that's all we need," he said.
He thinks Newark Elementary should stay open because it's the community's identity, and more families will leave the district if the school closes.
Having a centralized campus might be an option, Uber said, but he wonders if the district is considering all options, including dissolving the district, which he admits would be terrible for the community.
"That's the hard and final option," he said.
Abrahamson and Yaun see the benefits of a centralized campus in Orfordville to overcome the years of divide.
"If the answer would have been easy, it's like any other difficult problem, it would have been solved long ago," Abrahamson said. "Nobody wants to eliminate the school from somebody's community."