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State’s smallest school district going K-5

Agate teacher Megan Donnellon supervises kindergarteners, first-graders, second-graders - and sometimes the school's lone third-grader.

Agate elementary school teacher Megan Donnellon supervises kindergarteners, first graders and second graders - and sometimes the school’s lone third-grader.

Shaina Cavazos

The school board of the tiny 26-student Agate school district on Thursday surrendered to the apparently inevitable, voting to close the district’s middle and high school and operate only its K-5 elementary school starting next year.

The older students will be sent to schools in surrounding districts, though school officials have yet to work out the details about how to get them there, since transportation is a huge issue in the rural eastern plains area.

“The choices came down to two: we could either afford to operate just the elementary school for a few years and see what happens to the economy, or we could just fold up,” said board chairman Lyndon Burnett.

“The choice really made itself. We can keep five or six people employed, or we could unemploy 16. This way, we can maintain a presence in the town of Agate, and that’s the choice we decided to make.”

Burnett said Superintendent Kendra Ewing was told to start looking into ways to make the K-5 program in Agate more innovative, possibly adding hours or days. The school currently is on a four-day week.

“We’ll start thinking about what next year will look like,” Burnett said. “That needs to be our focus now. We think we can put an innovative, good program together for our little kids, keep serving our smallest ones. And we’ll give the older kids the opportunity to be in other districts, which can offer them more opportunities too. So it’s a win/win for everybody, though it’s not ideal.”

The district currently employs eight teachers, most of them serving the middle and high school students. Those jobs, he said, will go away.

“But we have good teachers, and I hope they can all find other employment. I know some of them already have,” he said.

Agate’s elementary school currently has nine students in grades K-5, and projections for next year are 9 to 12 children, Burnett said.

“But until the kids register, you never know. If the price of gas goes up, we may lose another family.”