Pender Public Schools has almost the same number of students and uses the same buildings it did nearly 20 years ago.
In that time frame, outside factors ranging from a major recession to skyrocketing land values have complicated their operations. None of this has stopped Pender from running an excellent school system.
At the turn of the century, Pender finished their most recent addition. This was followed by years of shrinking class sizes, a maxed out local levy, and a bond levy to pay for the addition. As the community began to wonder what lay ahead if this trend continued, the residents of Pender began working to secure the future of their town.
Their persistence paid off. Pender is a town teeming with energy and investment. Today, there is a state-of-the-art hospital on the edge of town and the newest project, a modern community center that includes a membership gym and child development center. With these developments, Pender has been gaining jobs and attracting new residents. Enrollment in the school is growing once again.
Class sizes have grown from the low twenties to low thirties. This means one teacher can no longer teach the entire grade alone. Likewise, expanding special education classes prompted the department's staffing to double. Building repairs, such as carpeting and HVAC, which had gone untouched for many years, have finally been completed.
A few dozen new students would go almost unnoticed at most schools. At Pender Public Schools, it demands new staff and all of the associated costs. Multiply one new teacher per grade across the entire elementary, and costs increase dramatically, all from factors largely out of the school’s control.
“Our board does a good job of making sure that whatever we do at the school the taxpayers are proud of,” said Jason Dolliver, superintendent of Pender Public Schools. “We want this school to last for many years.”
This commitment has meant that educational improvement is not slowing down. For the last three school years, Pender has cooperated with area school districts and colleges to offer career-oriented courses, called the Pathways to Tomorrow program. The Pendragon Academy is drawing in students with special needs from surrounding districts, and a recently announced plan for a sports complex is now seeking funding donations.
Community development is intricately related to education. Importantly, it is a two-way street. A thriving town needs a good school system, just as a good school system needs an active town to prosper.
Pender Public Schools demonstrates the financial situation of many rural schools. A few extra students per class often means doubling staff and the associated costs. Century-old buildings can only last so long without needing a fix. Local school boards do their best to be fiscally prudent and good stewards of our children. Students deserve quality schools no matter where they live. When it comes to rural education, Pender is setting the standard.