The Haines Borough school board should be commended for Tuesday’s meeting at Mosquito Lake School, an exercise in creative democracy and a model for government decision-making that begins at the grassroots.
More than 30 residents and leaders gathered in a circle with a loose agenda and brainstormed the school’s fate. Some very important ideas came out, including that Mosquito Lake’s problem – a decline in enrollment and how to address it – is the same issue facing the entire school district.
Changes at Mosquito Lake that work might also work at Haines School, or at other shrinking, rural schools, highway residents said. A dominant theme was reconfiguring the school to make it attractive to parents who otherwise may choose to homeschool their children.
Like it or not, our school district now has to compete for students, particularly if it’s going to maintain programs and standards most residents want. As homeschooling is eroding enrollment, these issues are big ones for the school district, but they’ve attracted little public interest during the board’s regular meetings.
Certainly the potential closure of Mosquito Lake helped draw a motivated crowd on Tuesday, including residents who had done some thinking beforehand. But the meeting’s format – an informal structure, a neighborly tone and setting, and a full coffee pot – also seemed to advance the discussion.
There’s likely a lot of work to be done if Mosquito Lake School is to remain open. But Tuesday’s meeting, an open-ended discussion with upper valley residents, was an encouraging first step.
-- Tom Morphet