The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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February 12, 2013

Dozens attend meeting to support Lincoln

CLINTON — An ardent call in support of Lincoln High School echoed through the Whittier Elementary School library on Monday night.

Approximately 60 people attended the Clinton School Board meeting to urge board members to consider the serious impact closing the district's alternative high school will have on the community.

Last month, Clinton High School principal Karinne Tharaldson Jones and District Superintendent Deb Olson stated that the Lincoln program would end and students would be integrated into CHS as early as next school year.  

Students who would have been sent to Lincoln would attend classes in a house behind CHS that would be remodeled by the district. They would also attend some classes at CHS. However, no resolution has come before the board and nothing was on the agenda regarding Lincoln on Monday night.  

Of the more than 60 impassioned community members to attend the meeting, nine of them spoke to the board in favor of rebuilding the program rather than dismantling it.  

Among them, former Lincoln principal Dennis Duerling, who asked why the program was proposed to be dissolved and whose idea it was.

"Who woke up one morning and said 'You know Lincoln is getting too successful at helping students who've fallen away for, Clinton High. So how can we systematically and secretly dismantle this successful program and therefore require students who have called Lincoln home, back to Clinton High.' Who and why," Duerling asked.

During the previous board meeting, it was stated that the collapse of the program into CHS would be completed in order to increase student success and graduation rates. According to Tharaldson Jones and Olson, 55 students are assigned to Lincoln and only 40 percent attend every day.  The school has a 30 percent graduation rate.

Duerling cautioned against the data coming from the district regarding the program, saying that it cannot be successful when it has been stripped of funding and resources. He offered his own data stating the program has graduated 722 students since it was started in 1986, many of them taking more than four years to complete their high school education. The level of student success or failure at Lincoln can be tied to the district's funding of the program, or lack thereof, he said.

"Of course it's not working because you tore it to shreds," Duerling said. "And you left a bare-bones program."

The cuts Duerling maligned include the daycare program, which was cut last year. Speakers also decried the lack of a full-time principal and other staff.

A former staff member, Rhonda Mohl, started her speech to the board by ringing a bell she earned by teaching at the Clinton School District for 26 years, 21 of those at Lincoln. Mohl said she resigned at the end of last school year because she saw what she believed was the writing on the wall for the program.

"I loved teaching at Lincoln and touching the lives of so many teenagers. I planned on working at Lincoln until I retired," Mohl said. "I realized that the future of Lincoln was in danger as I watched the number of teachers slowly go from 10 to 3 and the number of students dwindle from 100 to 50."

Of the several other attendees, a handful were Lincoln High School graduates who praised the program and lamented what they felt would have been their fate if they had been forced to finish high school at CHS.

The overwhelming message of the public comment was that fixing the program rather than dismantling it would be the best way to serve the students.  

The board did not take any action on Lincoln as it was not on the agenda.

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