Partnerships Spur Library, National Park, and Preschool — Worth County, Missouri


Last Updated: April 01, 2006
 

This article appeared in the April 2006 Rural Policy Matters.

Introduction 

Worth County School District and a variety of community partners have worked together to develop a school-community library, a preschool, and a National Park (that's right) with a track, outdoor classroom, amphitheater, garden, and paths. Energy and confidence across the community is rising. School Superintendent Linda Gray Smith says, "The community has decided we can do things. We might have to think differently to do what we want, but we can find a way to do it."

Students at Worth County School District contributed many hours of volunteer help to improve their facility and community. These students are installing sod to replace the grass that had been lost during construction of the track.

Background

Worth County in northwest Missouri is a small agricultural county-just 267 square miles and 2,300 residents. Like many other rural counties, it has struggled with the loss of overall population and declining enrollment in its schools. The population is 99% white; household and per capita income is 66% of the national average. About 14% of the population has incomes below the federal poverty level. Worth County Elementary and Worth County High, located in Grant City, have a combined enrollment of 377 students. About 45% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Early Development

Worth County's sense of confidence and optimism has not always been so strong. Less than a decade ago many streets in Grant City were not paved; there were few stores; the one local manufacturing plant had closed, and many buildings were sitting vacant.

 

Many community volunteers helped to build the Outdoor Learning and Recreation Complex. This helped keep costs down so we were able to achieve our goals. These volunteers are working on the track portion of the Complex.
Then, in the late 1990s, residents of the county participated in a strategic planning process facilitated by the Heartland Foundation. The process addressed the questions: Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How do we get there? The community's answers led to the Worth County Community Development Strategic Action Plan. Grant City developed a similar action plan. The strategic planning process mapped a series of agreed-upon actions for the community and laid the groundwork of cooperation and shared understanding that supports a variety of partnerships.

Programs

School-Community Library

Among the needs identified by the community in the strategic planning process was the need for a new public library building to replace the one that had been condemned. In the spring of 1999, a local resident approached Dr. Smith, who had recently become Worth County's new superintendent of schools, with the idea of a school-community partnership to build the library. Smith was interested as was the school board president and school librarian, Janice Borey, who also does grant writing for the school.

The Worth County Partnership Library is a combination public/school library. It provides our small rural community with 21st century library facilities.

Staff and board members of the school district and the public library began meeting together and exploring what each partner had to offer. They soon realized that their strengths were complementary: the public library had fiction while the school had mainly non-fiction; the school could staff the library during the school day and the public library could staff it afternoons and through the summer. The public library needed space, the school library needed more space. It was obvious that by working together the two libraries could serve the community much better.

They began exploring ways to raise money and soon learned about a 10-year interest-free loan available through the USDA. The loan required multiple community partners to apply together. By this time, the Extension Service Council was interested in being a partner in the development of a new library. The Council would provide $20,000 toward the building in exchange for access to the distance learning classroom planned for the building, a permanent space to display materials, and a dedicated computer for Extension clients.

The public library, school district, and Extension Council formed the Partnership Library Board and applied for the loan. The public library agreed to pay off the loan with its local tax levy. The school board agreed to provide the space and cover the cost of utilities. The Worth County University of Missouri Extension Council agreed to provide money toward construction. The library was opened in February 2002.

The Worth County Partnership Library provides the community and school with fast Internet access to provide global connections, up-to-date print information, the latest in fiction and modern facilities.

"It's been a wonderful partnership." says librarian Borey, "The school doesn't have to focus so much on young adult literature, so we can shift some of our budget to other needs. We collaborate with the public library to extend both our budgets. Money-wise, it's been a tremendous thing."

There are other benefits as well. Because a public librarian staffs the library in the afternoon, Borey can teach several classes-a real help in this small school. And students see adults using the library and reading; there are informal opportunities for interacting, too. When a community resident came to the library in order to locate Kuwait, where her grandson is stationed in the military, elementary students helped her find it on the globe-a learning experience for everyone. "I don't know why we didn't think of it a long time ago," Borey adds, "but sometimes it takes time for things to develop."

"It brings people to the school, and the more community people involved, the better. The school is their building after all," says Smith.

The graduating class of 1951 donated money to place three stone benches at the center of the garden plots, so that park visitors may sit and enjoy the surroundings. A stone path leads through a student constructed gazebo and up to this circle of benches.

Grant City National Park Outdoor Learning and Recreation Complex

The library partnership was proving that the school district and the community could work together for mutual benefit. So when a community resident who was working with the town to develop a park for Grant City suggested a partnership with the school it seemed like a good idea. The community strategic plan had identified a need for a safe place for elderly people to exercise. The school had a committee already working to improve its track; it also had a design for outdoor biology and art classrooms. The city and school decided to apply together for a federal grant through the Land and Water Conservation Act to develop a park on school property.

The park was designed to include an all-weather track, an outdoor biology classroom, an art area with an earthen kiln, a wetlands, a garden area, walking paths, an amphitheater, and a native grasses area.         

The grant, administered through the State Department of Natural Resources, required a 50% match, of which 25% could be labor. It also required making the space a National Park, which would mean that the land belonged to the federal government. The partnership decided that having a National Park in the community would be a great accomplishment and began the application process in the fall of 2000.

Local residents met the 25% labor match for the grant by using their own farm equipment to do the site preparation; the engineering plan and drainage pipes were also donated. The school board put up about half of the 25% cash match and asked the community to raise the balance. In less than two weeks the community had raised its share, plus an extra $17,000 through a process organized by the high school track coaches that sold "meters of track" to local residents. "When you have something very specific that the community knows about, they're willing to support the effort even when they don't have a lot of extra cash," Superintendent Smith says. 

The six acre park, which was built the same summer as the library, has been a great addition to the community. "There are people out walking day and night. It's open to the community any time except when the school is hosting a track meet," Smith explains. The track coaches are hosting more meets and the money raised goes into a special fund so that there will be money to resurface the track when it needs it.

A local resident involved in the community strategic action planning process wrote a grant and got money for 150 trees, which the biology classes identified, planted, and now tend. Each elementary grade has an area of the school garden that is theirs to manage throughout the year. The vocational-agriculture class planted native grass plugs. Last year the partnership received a renovation grant to improve the facility by adding seating and restrooms. It's a point of pride to have a National Park in the community.

"We're constantly building connections and scanning the horizons for money. The school board is supportive; they want to do things with and for the community and to maximize our resources. They're risk-takers, but it's a calculated risk. You have to be a trustworthy partner," Smith notes.

Worth County Child Center

The latest partnership is a preschool program for four- and five-year-olds. It got started when the Head Start Center contacted the school, located across the street, and asked what it could do to help. The Head Start program always had more families interested than it had room to accommodate. The school had space. Both partners could see benefits, so the school applied for a state grant to establish a preschool program. That program opened in October and currently serves 16 children. The preschool and Head Start programs work together to offer complementary services that provide high quality early childhood education in the community. The Head Start bus transports children in both programs. A percentage of grant funds are designated for community-based childcare providers, a provision that also strengthens the community and relations with the school.

Impact

The planning process and success of community partnerships has created energy and confidence among residents of Worth County. Borey puts it this way: "Partnerships help people realize what they can do; it's possible to make big changes if you want to." In addition to the partnerships with the schools, the community has obtained high speed internet, secured a small manufacturing plant, and seen an increase in entrepreneurship. A group of residents cooperatively franchised a Dollar General store in the community and a resident renovated and reopened the skating rink.

Lessons Learned

Worth County's successful partnerships are built in large part on an intensive planning process that involved a wide-range of residents in identifying community needs and goals as well as resources. The partnerships also came about because of necessity. One resident explains, "We're small and the community doesn't have much, so by sharing resources we can do things and have things that we couldn't otherwise." Another adds, "We're always looking for partnerships now because that's how we get things done." Borey says, "In the end you may not get any pay for the work that you put into a project, but you get something bigger and better, and that is the gratification of seeing your community grow and do things."

It helps to have a school board and administrators who view the school as belonging to the community. "We need to be for the community, not just asking them to do things for us," Smith observes. Such perspective opens possibility, strengthens community support for the school, and enhances the school's position as thehub of the community. Residents share other thoughts on what they've learned along the way:

  • You have to keep the good of the entire community at the forefront. That means individuals have to set aside some personal feelings and organizations have to give up some territory.
  • Partnerships thrive on the philosophy that everybody's better when anybody's better.
  • Look for strengths in potential partners. Figure out how you and your organization can help.
  • Stay open-minded. If someone gives a suggestion and it's opposed immediately, stop and deliberately think it through. You have to think differently about your community and how to do things to be successful.
  • Don't expect to have all the details perfectly set before you start. Do all the planning you can and then keep working it out as you go.
  • Ongoing communication that is clear and open is fundamental.
  • Think hard about possible funders and partners. Make connections. Make connections with legislators. Make sure people know who your community is and what you can do as well as what you need.
  • Make yourself a good investment. Do what you say. Follow the rules without complaining. Stay with it. Grants breed grants, success breeds success, and partnerships become a natural way of getting things done.
  • Just keep doing, keep working at it. It's a long process and sometimes a lot of waiting, but it's worth it.
  • Make sure that you thank everyone and that they know the work is a big success. Don't forget people. Don't let them forget you.

Contact Information

Dr. Linda Gray Smith   
Superintendent 
RR3 Box 107
Grant City, MO 64456
lgs@wc.k12.mo.us
(660) 564-3389

Ms. Janice Borey
Media Specialist
RR3 Box 107
Grant City, MO 64456
jborey@wc.k12.mo.us
(660)564-3389


School Demographic Information

District Enrollment: 377
Grades Served: Pre-K-12
Percent of Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunches: 45%
Percent Students who are English Language Learners: 0
Percent of Student Population:
     American Indian/Alaskan Native: 0
     Asian/Pacific Islander: 0
     Black, not Hispanic: 1%
     Hispanic: 1%
     White, not Hispanic: 98%

Read more from the April 2006 Rural Policy Matters.



Related Categories: Rural Policy Matters

Related Tags: School-Community Partnerships