Rural school supporters to rally at school board meeting in Newton

WALTON, Kan. (KSNW) – There is no official plan to close the quaint, popular school in the tiny town of Walton, known as the Walton Rural Life Center.

Kids at the school can be found inside doing math and science, but they are also outside each day feeding the animals. It’s all part of the curriculum to integrate life experiences with classroom activity.

But the school is mentioned on the school board agenda for this month so supporters are heading to an otherwise routine board meeting Monday night in Newton.

“Oh, yeah, we will all be there,” says Angela Black, Rural Life Center teacher. “We started the charter in order to make ourselves viable so we could stay open, so we wrote that so our school would have a focus and people would want to come.”

And since the the school is popular with parents, it has thrived. Right now there are 197 students at the school. The population of Walton is 233.

“Parents love it here for so many reasons, but kids love the hands-on approach,” explains Black.

Some supporters of the school say they are concerned that the rural school is on the school board agenda. Others are asking about long-term planning with the district, and whether or not that includes a building for the rural school.

Black says the school outgrew its current building, so a “modular” building was added a few years ago. And the school has grown more in recent years.

This month, as Newton school board members consider the future, some are asking what role the Walton Rural Life Center will play.

Newton High school needs about $35 million in renovation and repairs. And the high school has been deemed the top priority for the district’s long-term planning.

The second priority for funding is a larger building for the Rural Life Center, and that would cost millions as well.

“Fifteen to $30 million, it depends on what kind of plan would move forward,” says Newton USD 373 Superintendent, Dr. Deborah Hamm.

So, would the school do both? Or just one?

Dr. Hamm is not saying the Walton Rural Life Center is on the chopping block. But, she says, board members are right now considering top priorities for the district.

Dr. Hamm also says a bond issue could raise money for both the high school repair and renovations, as well as money for a new building for the rural school.

“It depends on what the (USD 373 school) board decides to do and what the community will support,” says Hamm. “There is a lot of support for this school and, again, I think this school, the support for the school has as much to do with the program as it does with the building.”

Dr. Hamm expects a big crowd at the board meeting.

School board members meet tonight at 7:00 at the administration office/board room. KSN will be there.