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Challenge of building MMS recalled - Daily Leader Extra : Top Stories

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Challenge of building MMS recalled

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Posted: Monday, May 13, 2019 3:51 pm

Memories are long in small towns, where families put down roots and the shared history of community members is recounted in stories told at gatherings.

At one such gathering on Friday, the story of the Madison Middle School was told -- the story of failed bond issues and the school board's decision to move forward using capital outlay certificates.

"A lot of us worked hard and struggled to get the school built," said retired middle school teacher Carol Kleibacker.

That struggle forged a bond so strong that 25 years later, those who have taught at the middle school decided to celebrate with a luncheon and commemorative photograph.

At 11 a.m., students were gathered into the school gym where former teachers waited on a row of chairs in front of the bleachers. Joined by current teachers, they posed for a photographer across the gym.

Then former staff gathered in a classroom with current staff for a PowerPoint presentation, a Skyped conversation with former school Superintendent John Sweet, and lunch. The decorations included a framed photo of former Principal Dale Waba, who helped fight the good fight which led to construction of the current facility.

"It created a lot of divisions in our community," Kleibacker recalled.

Twice -- in April 1990 and again in January 1991 -- a bond issue failed. Finally, in September 1991, the school board decided to build a new facility using capital outlay certificates.

Current MMS Principal Cotton Koch, who was a social studies teacher at the time, said this took courage on the part of board members. Essentially, they said, according to Koch, "`We're going to build this building whether the voters like it or not'."

Voters had not rejected the bond issues by a resounding majority, according to Kleibacker.

"We would get so close -- 58 or 59%," she said, noting that a 60% majority was needed to pass a bond issue at the time.

But the concerns were wide ranging. Some were worried about the tax increases, but others were worried about student safety, according to Koch. Would sixth-grade students be bullied by eighth-grade students? Would the close proximity to the high school enable high school boys to get involved with middle school girls?

"It took one year, and it all went away," Koch said. "Once we got in this building, people realized it was a good environment; it was a safe environment."

However, it was a building with shortcomings.

"We couldn't get our dream, so we ended up with the building that our community could afford," Kleibacker said.

The design isn't ideal for using a team approach to teaching. Many of the classrooms lack natural lighting. Initially, it wasn't even large enough.

"They had to just do it in pieces," Kleibacker explained. "We had years where teachers were on carts going room to room."

However, even with those shortcomings, the current middle school was a vast improvement over the former middle school, which was the repurposed high school. Constructed in 1914, the building had at least four levels -- sources differ in the way they count levels -- and was not handicap-accessible.

"We were always going up and down and around," Kleibacker said.

In addition, school enrollment was growing.

"We were overwhelmed with students," she said.

This was due, in part, to a number of changes which had taken place over a period of less than 30 years. Prior to January 1963, the school district had three K-8 elementary schools -- what current school board president Tom Farrell called "neighborhood schools" -- and a high school.

Rural students were bussed to the Beadle Campus School on the Dakota State College campus. When the Campus School burned, those students were absorbed into Washington, Garfield and Lincoln elementary schools.

The consolidation which occurred at that time included not only Beadle and Madison, according to Farrell, but also Winfred and Orland school districts.

"That started things rolling with the new high school," he said, adding that he was in the first class to graduate from the current high school.

When high school students vacated the downtown facility, seventh- and eighth-grade students were moved into the building. This alleviated pressure on the elementary schools, but did not prove to be an adequate long-term solution.

Farrell, who was involved in shepherding through the bond issue for the high school renovations and expansion, said he doesn't know what motivated the board to move forward with the middle school in 1991, but he believes it took commitment.

"I think what they were trying to do was provide an adequate education space for the staff to teach in and the students to learn in," he said.

In speaking with the teachers prior to the luncheon, Farrell said, "Madison has not always been supportive in getting us what we need in education." However, he noted that has changed over the years.

Kleibacker has noted the same things. Vocal opponents to construction of the middle school have made a 180-degree turn when it comes to the school district and the district's mission of educating "all students to fully achieve their personal and academic potential as lifelong learners skilled in communication, problem solving and global responsibility."

"Those people turned out to be great community supporters," she said.

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