near closure of junior high gives silver lining in gray clouds
|Helper Jr. High School Principal Tom Montoya|
On the morning after the Carbon County Board of Education decided not to close Helper Junior High, Principal Tom Montoya announced the decision to the staff and students of the school.
"There is little we can do about declining enrollment in our school, but there is something we can do about the academic achievement here," explained Montoya. "We can also come up with ways to affect our course offerings."
Montoya had taken a key from the board meeting the night before, realizing that the closing of a school in a community doesn't always have to do with money and costs, but with many different factors.
Helper was spared the chopping block largely because it's size is still viable and it has near to the same course offerings that Mont Harmon does. It also has shown some real growth in test scores in recent years.
But despite those things in the arsenal of weapons that proponents of the school had to offer to the study committee, there was a lot of tension and anxiety around the school the last few weeks concerning the future.
"It was a tough three weeks," he said in an interview in his office on Monday morning. "It was hard not only for the staff here, but also for the students. However I think there will be a lot of good that will come from this challenge as well."
Montoya is positive about his school, and certainly about the community that came out to support it two weeks ago during a public meeting.
"When the count was all figured out we had over 600 people show up to the meeting," he said. "What was interesting is that it showed how valuable this school is to this community. I was also very interested in all the reasons people gave for not closing the school. For me there is one reason and that is to continue to have a good school for the kids of the community."
Montoya said that often people take things for granted until they might or do lose them. He said that examples of that abound.
"Take the pool here in Helper," he said. "Before that was closed down last year it seemed that it would always be here. But when we lost it everyone realized how much we had enjoyed having it in the town."
The principal said he believes the close call that Helper Junior High had will help students, staff and even the local community to channel their efforts to be sure that as enrollment declines the school remains a quality place for students to learn and achieve.
"There are a lot of things we have no control over but we can control achievement and have more fervor for concise plans to make this school be as good as it can be," he said. "I think since many of the students attended the public meeting and they saw the presentation given by the study committee they have a better understanding of how important test scores are. I think this whole process will help us to focus on our academic goals."
Montoya said the study also validates the fact that there are many pieces to a childs education and not all of it is academic.
"A school is measured by all the pieces of the puzzle," he said. "It involves many things. A student may learn important things from a single class or experience or during an athletic event. They may learn from the way a situation is handled in the office or through a social experiences at an extra curricular activity. All these things are the measure of a school."
Montoya said that the fact that Helper Junior High has small class sizes may have been one of the reasons the committee looked at the school for closure, but he sees that as an advantage, especially if students will utilize that available close instruction in their academic lives.
"I think Carbon has a good school system and this close scrutiny will help us all to refocus our efforts," he states. "We are an accredited school. Mont Harmon is going through that process themselves right now. Accreditation is a good thing because it shows us where we need to improve."
Montoya said his school is now looking to the future to improve itself and to keep it viable when the district has need to look at its status again. He also believes its fate will be in the hands of the people involved in the school.
"The way I see it is that it's what people give to the school, not what they get from it that counts," concluded Montoya.