Maintaining gemeinschaft during a century of change : rural school consolidation in Iowa, a case study

Tookey, Leah
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During the twentieth century, three separate movements of school consolidation have threatened many small Iowa communities and their most defining institution: the local school. Displaying a common human response when their identity was attacked, ruralites in small communities fought to defend the rural school from the designs of education reformers and state lawmakers. Rural school reform has been a nation-wide movement and Iowa's experiences were, in many ways, typical, and illustrative of this struggle. In the small Southwestern Iowa community of Exira, residents faced each of these three eras of consolidation in much the same way most communities in Iowa did. During the Progressive Era, they united to build a new school building that would be the pride of the small town for decades. During the 1950s, Exirans once again faced reorganization head on and built a new and modern high school to house the expanding numbers baby boom generation students. In the mid 1980s however, Exirans resisted the state's aggressive actions to force consolidation on the many small school districts in Iowa. This time they struggled and won the right to keep their school. This study focuses on the "place" that is Exira and how the citizens responded when their community was threatened by consolidation, and how they fought to maintain their sense of place and space. This is the story of Exira and its struggle to build, maintain, and finally save its school district during a century of change.