Residents discuss ways the communities of Palmyra and Eagle and the school district can become united at the March 13 meeting at Palmyra-Eagle High School. (Heather Ruenz photo)

Residents discuss ways the communities of Palmyra and Eagle and the school district can become united at the March 13 meeting at Palmyra-Eagle High School. (Heather Ruenz photo)

By Heather Ruenz


The Palmyra-Eagle Area School District is facing a dire situation, losing students, teachers and money at an alarming rate, according to district officials.

In an effort to make the district more appealing, a strategic plan was put in place, beginning with a proposal to change the name of the district.

Community meetings were held March 12 and 13 in Eagle and Palmyra, respectively, to generate name change suggestions but the resounding message was of the two communities, the school district and local families, becoming united.

District Superintendent Glenn Schlender said earlier this week that the issue goes much deeper than changing the name of the district.

“The name change is a symbolic gesture for more substantive changes that have and will come as a result of our strategic planning work in the district. It is imperative that we pull our two communities together and the name change proposal brought attention to the need to do that,” Schlender said.

“The name change alone will not make a difference but if it serves as a catalyst for more substantive change toward unity, then the effort has already been successful,” he added.

At the March 13 meeting, Schlender told those in attendance: “We want to be one school district, not two communities under one school board. We need to end this divisiveness that comes between these two communities, because we can be a much stronger district by working together.”

School Board president Richard Kiehl explained just how much money the district is losing.

“Literally millions of dollars are at stake here,” Kiehl said. “For every student we lose to a neighboring district, we pay more than $6,000. During this fiscal year alone, we will pay more than $1.8 million of your taxpayer dollars to other districts to educate our children.”

Students that live outside of Eagle and Palmyra can choose to attend the PEASD, Kiehl said, and currently there are 24 such students.

Kiehl said market research showed that the district is losing students because it is not unified. “We do not communicate or promote our schools as well as neighboring districts.”

The name change proposal applies only to the district as a whole; the names of the schools – Eagle Elementary, Palmyra Elementary, Palmyra-Eagle Middle and Palmyra-Eagle High schools – will remain the same.

Schlender said the district’s strategic plan will “create clear goals… and ensure that we maintain a laser-like focus on our priorities, which are our children. If we unify our efforts on this plan we will be much stronger as a district.”

The three main strategies of the plan, revealed during the community meetings are: to ensure relevant, responsive and rigorous learning experiences for all students; to ensure the creation of a culture marked by trust, support and respect, and; to reach out to the community to enhance a mutually supportive partnership.

Speakers – including students of various ages, school organization representatives, a parent and a school board member – shared positive experiences they’ve had in the school district.

Working together

Once the presentations were finished, those present broke off into smaller groups – approximately 10-12 people in each and a facilitator.

David Voss, of Voss & Associates, a marketing and communication company largely focused on its work with school districts and hired to assist PEASD in its quest to make the district more appealing, led the discussion portion of the meetings.

Initially, the groups could be overheard discussing the cost of the name change and the question of what such a change would do for the district, with some noticeably angry about the suggestion.

While several of those present could be heard saying they didn’t know people from the other community, most admitted to having breached that division at some point.

As the discussions continued and attendees became more comfortable they quickly amassed ideas on how to improve unity.

Once the discussions ended, the groups, despite being focused around the discussion that took place at their table, echoed sentiments that were similar in response to the discussion topics.

In response to the question: what is common among us all? The groups overwhelmingly said the kids, strong family ties to the community and pride of the school district.

Responses about what would signify or bring about unity included some saying they were unaware of the animosity between the communities while others said more opportunities could bring parents together including joint field trips and combining the recreation departments. It was also suggested that the district promote what students of PEASD have become.

Finally, answers given as to what name would signify the two previous topics resulted in the overwhelming desire to keep the district name as it is. A facilitator for one group at the March 13 meeting, stated: “A name doesn’t make us; we make the name.”

Schlender said because of the response at the two community meetings and on the district website to keep the name the same, he was going to suggest that be one of the three options being presented to the school board, which is set to take action on the name change at its next meeting.

The board is set to meet at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 8 in the Irvin L. Young Community Center at Palmyra-Eagle High School, 123 Burr Oak St., Palmyra.

See related letter under the “opinion” tab.


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