The meeting was set to open up communication and awareness between small rural schools and state legislative leadership. Goessel school and community representatives felt that mission was accomplished Thursday when they traveled to Topeka to meet with Gov. Sam Brownback.
“Unfortunately, our interview was quick and intense,” USD 411 Superintendent John Fast said. “But by the end of our conversation, the governor shared appreciation that our focus was on building bridges of communication. He appeared to be genuine in welcoming further dialogue with us.”
Joining Fast in Brownback’s office March 8 were school board members Dan Miller, Darla Meysing, and Eric Schrag; site council representative Linda Ewert; Goessel High School Principal Scott Boden; and Student Council President Braden Unruh.
“We talked about education,” Meysing said. “We wanted him to know that even though we are a small, rural school, we have something for everyone. We offer opportunities for our kids and there is a place for everyone. We may be small, but our education system is working and we shared our successes with him.”
The Goessel contingent brought along trophies, certificates, and plaques won recently by USD 411 students.
“He seemed impressed with the high level of achievement we have at our school,” Meysing said. “He was very positive in his comments.”
Fast said the governor shared his priorities of strengthening career and technical education and his focus on fourth-grade reading levels with the group.
“He shared examples of programs in community colleges that are growing career and technical education and would like very much to see this expanded throughout the state,” Fast said. “It appeared to us that his plan for getting fourth-grade reading levels up was less specific. We shared with him how our MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support) model is working with our elementary school with lots of tutoring and progress monitoring.”
Fast said they also shared how the trend toward more and more instruction being done through websites, e-sources and less through traditional textbooks was a burden for small schools.
“It is difficult to lean on an already tight technology budget and continually be pressured to invest more funds in that direction,” he said. “We stressed that we consider all programs to be crucial to the education of a child and that we had not cut music or other fine arts courses.”
Unruh took a turn addressing the governor, sharing his perspective on the value of a small school education.
“He spoke right up and did such a nice job telling how his grandparents attended Goessel schools, his parents were both educated there, how he appreciated the opportunities he had, and how someday he hoped Goessel would still be around for his children,” Meysing said. “It was very eloquent, and very well received by the governor.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Fast presented Brownback with a book, “Hallowed Hardwood,” written by Goessel art teacher Brian Stucky.
“He smiled openly for the first time and appeared truly appreciative,” Fast said. “He scanned several pages and said he would enjoy reading this book.”
After Brownback left the meeting, his chief of staff, Jon Hummel, spent more than 40 minutes with the Goessel contingent.
“We had an excellent visit with Mr. Hummel and asked questions regarding regulations and requirements of virtual schools,” Fast said. “He was very honest and shared that the governor’s office is very concerned about where the school lawsuit will lead.”
Fast said that while the pace and tenor of the meeting did not lend well to picture taking or leisurely talking, overall it was a positive experience. Both Brownback and Hummel seemed genuine in welcoming further dialogue with the Goessel group.