The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

February 5, 2013

Former Lincoln principal defends school’s program

By Dennis Duerling
Special to the Herald

CLINTON — I am writing this to share with the public what I presented to the Clinton School Board at its Jan. 28 Committee of the Whole meeting.

I feel the need to inform the public what I said:

“I am saddened to hear of the proposal to close the Lincoln building. I am here tonight to ask you to take a deep look into the potential effects this proposal may have on this school district and community and ask what is the true rational for closing Lincoln?

Yes, I have a strong loyal spot in my heart for Lincoln and all it represents and all it has done for hundreds of students throughout the years. I would like to share a few facts with you before this decision is finalized.

In my observations, the ground work for the closing of Lincoln had been laid and planned for many years. When I was Lincoln's principal in the early 2000s, even with an enrollment of over 150 students, the pressure to downsize Lincoln was talked about. My standing up for those students and that program at Lincoln almost cost me my 30-plus year career here in Clinton. But I felt then as I do now someone had to stand up for the young people who constantly struggle on a daily basis. I could not understand it then and cannot understand it now. Why did the district and does the district want to close a building that has been state honored for what it has done to help reduce the drop-out rate and to help over 400 students earn a diploma, and become hard-working citizens who mostly stay in Clinton?

I can go on and on about the young people who graduated from Lincoln and are now wage-earning, tax-paying citizens living here in Clinton working as a lab tech at ADM, nursing home nurses, nurses at Mercy Hospital, a counselor with an MA degree working in the mental health field and yes, even a teacher and administrator at Clinton High, just to name a few.

If it is a financial situation, I ask you to ponder this... in the State of the District article in the  Herald, the school superintendent reported in 2012 the district lost 90 students. At $6,047 the district receives for each student from the state, that loss adds up to $544,000.

At Lincoln, where students worked at their own pace to achieve skill levels before they would be moved on to the next level, many of them needed three, four, five, or six years more to graduate. That means at Lincoln we had 18-to-21- year old students still in school, still working hard toward a diploma and still earning money for the district. That’s a lot of money those students brought into the district. My question is how many 18-to-21-year-old students who feel they don't fit into the Clinton High School building demographics in the first place are going to stay? I predict very, very few if any of those students are going to stick around. That was the whole idea of Lincoln in the first place. Those kids felt left out at Clinton High so they would drop out. But with the Lincoln philosophy of small classes, working at their own pace and a direct feeling of one-to-one trust with a caring teacher in a component called Family Class, those kids had a sense of belonging and a sense of being worthwhile.” ...

After seeing the front page headlines for the Jan. 29 edition of the  Herald and reading the article and also seeing that my comments to the board were not even mentioned in the article, I feel compelled to respond. To quote Deb Olson, “It’s not being done on a whim. It's based on data. We look at the data not supporting the format that's going on, we need to try something else.”

Of course, the format that's going on isn't working. That’s because the district has systematically demolished the format that was working. It was gradually torn to shreds and left as a bare-bones project. Lincoln has no full-time principal, no guidance counselor, no teacher who is certified in their field to teach English, social studies or science, and must we not forget the daycare program that was eliminated. And this is best for kids?

Clinton High's principal was noted as saying the closing of Lincoln campus is in order to give students the same opportunities to succeed academically. We were doing that before the program was torn to shreds. She also said, “What we're trying to do is get kids back into the courses available at Clinton High, get interventions and come back.” Don't they understand these kids, they did not want to be at Clinton High in the first place because they felt they did not fit.

The superintendent talks of data. Well let's give her real data. I'd like all Lincoln grads to contact me by email at Dduerling@mchsi.com. Send me a message with your phone number so I can call you back.

I want to collect data regarding what Lincoln did for you and what you are contributing to this community because of Lincoln. 

Dennis R. Duerling, of Clinton, is a retired Lincoln High School principal.