"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

We accomplish change with less conflict

I have a couple acquaintances who graduated at the old elementary auditorium. It wasn't called the elementary auditorium then. That old erector set of buildings once housed up through grade 12. It was Morris High School in the days before "Area" got wedged in.
It would be nice to go back to "Morris High School." Area-wide high schools have become the norm. It's assumed. The word "Area" never gave any satisfaction to our surrounding small towns anyway. The surrounding small towns don't much care about these issues anymore. They did, when they had to let go of their schools. There was no worse hot-button political issue.
Area legend has it that a store in Cyrus was boycotted after the owner told the Glenwood paper that maybe the school board would have to acknowledge reality. Maybe the moral of the story is to not talk to a newspaper. Seriously. 
Eventually we saw the Cyrus task force try to determine the future for Cyrus kids. An area journalist told me that, just as I suspected, the task force ended up with much more power than intended. I'm not sure it ever had that much power, it just got lots of attention. My paper in Morris seemed to give breathless attention to every move that group made. 
I remember the first sentence the paper shared after the task force made its decision. It was a two-word sentence: "It's Hancock." I wasn't surprised given the social and political dynamics of our area. I observed personally how the small schools subscribed to a different ethos from our "big" Morris school. The small schools were, shall we say, more traditional. The Morris school was more inclined toward trendy educational ideas, what we might call deconstructionist thinking. 
There was also a perception that Morris was a town of cliques that might not be receptive to new kids from outside. "I'm afraid my son would get lost in the shuffle," a friend of mine from Hancock said. His son would become quarterback of the Hancock football team.
It was inevitable that many small schools were going to have to close or to pair extensively with other schools. The process should have been done with less of a feeling of conflict.
Conflict was so common up through the 1980s. I think our leaders recognized that and began to promote systems where necessary decisions could be made without such conflict. I remember being at the Atwood Center ballroom at St. Cloud State University in the late 1970s. The time had finally come to replace a ridiculously outdated bridge that crossed the Mississippi River and entered the SCSU campus. If you had occasion to visit SCSU in the 1970s, you must remember that relic of an earlier time. Though it was a no-brainer to replace it, a process began that led to an unreasonable amount of contentiousness.
A public meeting was held at the Atwood ballroom, mainly to get comments on an environmental impact statement, as I recall. I suppose the new bridge would be accompanied by a busier artery through that part of St. Cloud. People showed up at the meeting who were angry beyond words. I had to shake my head. Anyway, I think our leaders recognized that this method for planning development was unreasonable. Tough decisions have to be made sometimes, as with the phasing-out of small schools.
It may have been political to allow the construction of the Lac qui Parle and Minnewaska schools, those so-called "cornfield high schools." Before long I was hearing that the state legislature wasn't going to allow these cornfield schools anymore. People in positions of authority were bypassing the local, emotion-fueled politics to see that the right decisions got made. They did us a favor, preventing the kind of anger that can cause permanent strained relations between people.
Why did Lac qui Parle Valley have "Valley" in its name? There's no valley there, is there? The story I heard once is that "Lac qui Parle" alone wasn't going to fly, because that name had already been used for the Madison-based wrestling program. Wrestling! Using that name for the new school might suggest that Madison was in a preferred position, I guess.
The politics of the Cyrus transition was similarly confounding. "It's Hancock." After all that trouble, "it's Hancock." Why? Well, emotions and small town parochialism had their wheels in motion. We began to suspect this when we learned in short order that the Hancock scheme was going to fall apart. People showed up at the Hancock school board and weren't even interested in hearing any rationale for accepting the new combo with Cyrus. Cyrus had gotten concessions for keeping its facilities going. Those concessions didn't sit well with some Hancock residents, who really got their dander up.
The whole idea crumbled in spite of all that elaborately reported activity by the task force. 
Today, I don't think my writing about this is going to offend anyone, because these very small towns have moved on, adjusted and found their new niche in the world. They are very content being quiet, safe retirement or satellite communities. They are enviable in that sense. No need for a school with its sports teams building emotions, many of them not very inspiring, like in the movie "Hoosiers." No need for Gene Hackman throwing a punch at an opposing smart-aleck player.
Our whole society has moved beyond conflict-fueled emotions. It has been a slow process that many of us haven't even noticed. Responsible decisions will be made that needn't engender so much anger by certain people. St. Cloud needed some better-developed arteries through the city. The small towns around Morris were going to have to become more Morris-oriented. If there were any problems associated with the Morris school, and there were, they would be smoothed over in due time.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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