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Jane Ahlin, Published August 14 2011

Ahlin: During special week, affirm value of Davies High School

Our neighborhood has turned over in recent years. Some of the new neighbors are middle-aged; however, in most of the homes where old folks moved out, young families moved in. My husband and I have remarked on the change at one house or another – vans where sedans used to be, hot wheels or bicycles on the lawn – but a neighborhood block party on Aug. 2 pointed up just how dramatic (and delightful) the overall change has been: lots of young couples, lots of kids.

Also made clear was that my husband and I now are among the oldsters. (Three decades in the same house tends to do that to people.) What struck me as we became acquainted with our new neighbors at the block party was that the concerns of young families are the same ones we had when we moved into the neighborhood: first and foremost, it’s the schools. And judging by the remarks at the block party, the young parents where we live really like our neighborhood schools.

I remember the feeling well. And yet, I also remember the turmoil for Fargo Public Schools as population growth patterns, and the families with children that they represented, moved ever southward. Schools, particularly those closest to downtown, found their numbers dwindling. Of course, at that point, downtown itself was pretty well hollowed out.

For a time, the only two ideas given real attention by school administrators and board members were closing less-populated elementary schools and shifting boundaries. Of course, closing schools likely would have been the death knell to central city neighborhoods already in decline; at the same time, equalizing populations at northside and southside schools by shifting the boundaries for northside schools farther and farther southward would have forced students who came from homes across the street from Agassiz or South High to find transportation to Ben Franklin and North High for classes. There was an air of desperation and gloom over a seemingly intractable enrollment situation. Certainly, an overall vision for the future eluded everybody.

What happened next is something that should make our community proud. City leaders initiated the renaissance zone to revitalize downtown, a project that early on brought attention to the importance of healthy, near-downtown residential neighborhoods. Then, the FPS administration and board invited Fargo residents into the process of linking Fargo Public Schools with the values of the community. Not surprisingly, the role elementary schools play in keeping neighborhoods strong was highly valued.

Clear values for middle schools and high schools also emerged. As FPS Superintendent Dr. Rick Buresh said in the recent Forum supplement announcing the dedication of Davies High School, the outcomes of working with input from the community included “a consistent configuration of grade levels across the district (K-5,6-8,9-12), a goal for “school sizes of 900 to 1,200 students at the high school level,” and “a target of 26 or fewer students for middle and high school classes.”

This week’s dedication of Judge Ronald N. Davies High School is a capstone to that process. The dedication ceremonies scheduled for this week promise to be nothing short of inspirational, particularly the “Rocking Chair Symposium” next Saturday with two members of the Little Rock Nine and the keynote speech on Sunday by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Stephen G. Breyer.

In the excitement of this week, however, it’s important to reaffirm why Davies High School was built. The Fargo community wants children to thrive in school – not simply to survive. As Buresh said, in addition to academic opportunity, we value school size that facilitates “meaningful participation in the full range of school activities” for all students. Most importantly, whether we’re just starting out, our children are grown, or we’re somewhere in between, we understand that the quality of our schools sets the tone for our community; indeed, we can’t have a community vision that does not begin with providing the best education possible for each and every upcoming generation.

Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.