WSW: A High School Merger That Could be a Model in Michigan
Bridge Magazine examined what has happened this school year since students from Albion began attending high school in Marshall.
Update: A member of the last graduating class of Albion High School has written an op-ed piece for Bridge Magazine. Ashlin Tabiadon is critical of some of the reporting in the series.
French told WMUK's Gordon Evans that Bridge wanted to explore the merger because many districts are facing financial problems and are considering collaborating with other districts. He says so far it appears the Marshall and Albion merger is working despite big differences in income, race and test scores. French says "if that merger can work then maybe that can be a model for other collaborations around the state."
Albion had to close its high school due to declining enrollment. Many of the students who would otherwise attend schools in the Albion district were going elsewhere as allowed under "schools of choice." French says that cost the district about $7,000 per student. But he says Marshall was also running a $1-million deficit. French says Marshall had the room at its high school to accommodate the additional students. He says since the district received the $7,000 for each student from Albion, Marshall was able to eliminate it deficit.
French says there was a lot of fear on both sides. He says people in Albion feared losing part of their community with its high school closing down. They would no longer have high school football and basketball games in their town on Friday nights. Marshall residents were concerned about brining in students from a school district with lower test scores. Concerns were also raised about security. French says the concerns deal with class and race. He says there was a generational difference in how students and their parents viewed the merger. French says students did not see the same problems that their parents anticipated.
Students from Albion who now attend school in Marshall, have a long bus ride in the morning. Students who are in after-school activities such as theater or sports can be at school for 12 hours. French says there are shuttle busses that go back and forth for those students. He says that some students from Albion are facing greater academic challenges at Marshall High School. French says that follows research which shows that educational achievement correlates strongly with income. But French says the students from Albion have shown great resiliency, and have worked hard to succeed in a new environment. He says parents and students he talked too believed the change in schools has been positive.
State education officials have been encouraging consolidation and collaboration between school districts. French says there about four dozen school districts in the state that are running a deficit. He says some of those are deeper in the red than Albion was before it agreed to the high school merger with Marshall. French says other districts are looking at sharing other services such as bookkeeping. But he says one of the larger options is a merger like the one between Albion and Marshall. French says "there is no model now, Marshall and Albion, if it continues to be as successful as it is now could be that model."
French says the two districts worked together to make the transition go smoothly. He says that included bringing students together at Albion College for a weekend in the summer. They paired students from the different schools together. French says "you can't just say we're putting kids together and we're saving some money."