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Indian Creek, Paw Paw high-schoolers could merge

Voters will decide whether Paw Paw students should attend Indian Creek

SHABBONA – Indian Creek High School students have built model greenhouses and are exploring the feasibility of building and running it on the high school campus.

“This is exciting, and we absolutely could always use some help,” 17-year-old senior Cade Bauer said Tuesday morning.

Students from Paw Paw could get in on newly designed agriculture education if voters approve a deactivation in November that will shut down Paw Paw High School and move those students to the high school in Shabbona.

The model greenhouses are representative of what’s coming down the pipe in southern DeKalb County.

Spurred by both districts’ declining enrollment and uncertainty surrounding state funding, school officials have discussed for some time combining the high schools – after which Paw Paw’s elementary and middle schools would continue to function.

A study commissioned by both
districts’ school boards and done by Robert Lagerblade and Ray Bergles was released in June and gave the green light on the deactivation – as long as essential discussions happen first.

The study projects that if Paw Paw students are brought into Indian Creek High School, the combined high school’s enrollment will be 210 in the 2023-24 school year – only four more students than the high school’s current enrollment.

The current high schools’ combined enrollment is down 13 percent in the past five years, from 312 to 269 – 63 of whom attend Paw Paw High.

On Aug. 13, the Paw Paw School District 271 Board approved charging its students going to Indian Creek $10,000 each for tuition – about $2,000 less than Indian Creek School District 425 currently charges for out-of-district students.

The District 271 board, however, has been negotiating for months, hoping for a figure closer to $8,000.

“That was one thing we were hoping for, and the study didn’t give it, it was a recommendation on a tuition rate,” District 271 Superintendent Stan Adcock said before the Aug. 13 board meeting.

With the approval of the rate, the referendum now will be on the Nov. 6 election ballot, until which both districts are in stasis.

Should the new tuition rate
be approved, District 425 Superintendent Chad Willis said it’s nearly a lock his board will approve the tuition rate, seeing as how it’s the rate it previously proposed.

“I would anticipate it would be approved,” he said.

At that point, a lot will need to be ironed out, with transportation, streamlining graduation requirements, the grading scale and curriculum toward the top of the list.

Currently, Indian Creek’s curriculum dwarfs that of Paw Paw High.

The southern portion of the county is prime farm territory, and Paw Paw students are offered only one course: basic agriculture. Bauer said he’s heard that D-271’s Future Farms of America program is declining right along with enrollment. He’s deliberating taking over the family farm someday.

Classmate Wiley Sawyer, 17, said he doesn’t want to do anything but farm.

“It’s what I know how to do,” he said. “I love it so much, and it’s what I’m good at.”

Whereas only English 1 through 4 are offered in Paw Paw, another 11 courses are offered at Indian Creek High, if you include subsequent coursework in topics such as yearbook, theater and creative writing. Paw Paw has virtually no industrial arts courses, whereas Indian Creek has offerings from woodworking to parenting.

Indian Creek High Principal Sarah Montgomery said not only can Paw Paw students benefit from additional curriculum, but more advanced coursework could be added, should the deactivation be approved and prove fruitful.

“I think will provide a better experience for both Paw Paw students and our students,” she said. “It will broaden our course offerings and help maximize the potential for both communities.”

The D-425 curriculum director, Paula Kennedy, echoed that sentiment. She said conversations with current students, their parents, and notably recent alumni have revealed a need for more accelerated classes and differentiation.

She said the merger could make that happen.

“More students, more enrollment, means more resources,” she said.

D-425 is sitting pretty, with an education fund of more than $12.5 million after Fiscal Year 2017 – a more than 25 percent increase over the past five years.

D-271, conversely, is struggling to make ends meet in its education fund – which pays for most educational operations, including payroll.

“If the state of Illinois fully funds the new state aid formula, Paw Paw should continue to function,” the commissioned study reads. “However, another state of Illinois budgetary crisis or not funding the new formula would drastically curtail the education fund’s recent progress.”

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