WALNUT, Iowa — Come August, Walnut students in seventh through 12th grades will attend school in Avoca.
The A-H-S-T and Walnut Community School Districts this week approved a four-year agreement for sharing a superintendent, teachers and classes.
Officials say dwindling enrollment has made it difficult for the Walnut district to afford a secondary school. Walnut students in ninth through 12th grades currently attend part of the school day at the Walnut school and spend the other half in Avoca.
“Financially, we could no longer afford a secondary program” in Walnut, said Jesse Ulrich, superintendent for Walnut and A-H-S-T schools. “The next logical step was to enter in a whole-grade sharing agreement.”
Ulrich said some Walnut residents were hesitant about losing the town's secondary school. However, the change will allow both districts to expand programs, because A-H-S-T is “very financially healthy.”
“It was difficult for some to let go of that dream,” Ulrich said. “But with only 92 students K-12, we really had to shift our focus.”
The Walnut school district lost about half of its student population through open enrollment in five years, Ulrich added.
The A-H-S-T secondary school — which represents Avoca, Hancock, Shelby and Tennant — will become AHSTW to include Walnut.
“That was important to all of our communities,” Ulrich said of the name change.
A-H-S-T and Walnut will maintain separate districts and school boards. Each district will also retain its elementary school.
The secondary school's mascot will remain the Vikings and Lady Vikes, with school colors remaining blue, red and white.
The Walnut school district will pay A-H-S-T 80 percent of about $6,000 — or $4,800 — in state funds allocated per student. Walnut will pay for students' transportation to AHSTW.
Ulrich said at least four teaching positions at Walnut will be eliminated. However, final staff adjustments have not been made.
District officials are looking into leasing space that will become available at the Walnut school.
A-H-S-T approved expanding programs and staff for the next school year, which will give AHSTW a full-time agricultural education and industrial technology program. The school added a full-time talented and gifted teacher, secondary language arts teacher, a student services coordinator and additional staff in the special education and Title I departments.
“All of the kids being served there are going to benefit from it,” Ulrich said. “It's really a win-win for us.”