Supporters of small Iowa schools are uniting — on Facebook. Last week Senator Matt McCoy of Des Moines touted the idea of closing school districts with fewer than 750 students, forcing consolidations. Ryan Frederick, a 2004 graduate of Orient-Macksburg High School, started a Facebook group to protest the idea moments after he heard about it.
"Pretty much as soon as the 10:00 news was over, I got on my Facebook and set up this group, ‘Senator Matt McCoy wants to close rural Iowa’s schools. Let’s say no’ and the reponse has been just nuts," Frederick says. "We’ve had people get on there and talk about ways that we can help try to defeat Senator McCoy next fall. He’s up for election in 2010."
Frederick was part of a graduating class of 21 students and Frederick disputes McCoy’s assertion that students in small schools are getting a subpar education. "This idea flies in the face of what Iowa Department of Education’s statistics tell us is true. The larger schools do not outperform the smaller schools. Combining school districts does not help performance. It saves money, sure, but at what price?" Frederick asks. "The ten largest high schools in the state have an average graduation rate of 84.4 percent. The ten smallest high schools, on the other hand, have a graduation rate of 96.7 percent. That just blows the other number out of the water."
Frederick says social platforms like Facebook allow for a much more widespread response for his group as new developments occur. For example, a Des Moines representative recently introduced a bill calling for the creation of a task force to examine school consolidation. "When Representative Ford’s bill was introduced, I immediately could get on there and send out a Facebook message to, I think we had 600 members at the time, saying ‘Look, here’s this bill, here’s what it is, here’s who put it there, here are the people who sit on the Education Committee and how to get ahold of all these people. Let’s get after this thing,’" Frederick says.
Frederick says he’s excited to meet so many young people from across the state who are passionate about the issue. The group, sometimes growing at the rate of five new members per minute, offers several ways to get engaged. "I have a number of discussions started on a number of subjects from the pros and cons of school consolidation to some statements from Iowa Farm Bureau and the National Rural Educators’ Association. Also, we have a running discussion on our Facebook wall from all over the state," says Frederick. "We’re also collecting pictures on that group of schools that are on the chopping block under this arrangement."
Frederick says he and some other members of the group are working through the worldwide web to ultimately put together a packet to mail to legislators. Some state legislators — but not McCoy — have even joined Frederick’s Facebook group. To view it, go to facebook.com and search for the group using the keywords "Senator Matt McCoy".
Frederick graduated from Iowa State University in 2008 with a business degree. He’s living in his hometown of Orient as he conducts a job search.