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Community discusses school issues at Cracker Barrel

Johnsburg Central School Board President Bill Conner (in tie) listens to art teacher Maria Glode, at the head of the table, as she talks about the importance of art in school during the March 6 Cracker Barrel.

Johnsburg Central School Board President Bill Conner (in tie) listens to art teacher Maria Glode, at the head of the table, as she talks about the importance of art in school during the March 6 Cracker Barrel. Jim Nash

— Count this among the many charms of small-town life: Cracker barrels.

A throwback to the days when life was slow enough for people to sit around the general store chewing over local issues, cracker barrels — in this case at Johnsburg Central School — put government officials elbow to elbow with constituents.

At least as is practiced in the school district, the object is to give board members and administrators feedback and ideas for improving local education. There's no debating or judging ideas. It's just an exercise in communications in the hope that positive changes can be made.

The latest school district cracker barrel, held in the antiseptic cafetorium, Tuesday, March 6, included teachers, students, and for the first time, community members at large.

The visitors rotated in defined groups every 15 minutes among five tables, each anchored by a board member and at least one administrator, including Superintendent Mike Markwica and board President Bill Conner.

Each table had an assigned topic: curriculum, community, sports/communication, school/environment/technology and building and grounds/policy.

Suggestions could be categorized as those not requiring money — pep rallies that include the whole community, university-like class schedules for seniors — and those likely to cost money — roof repairs, class sizes, broader language curriculum, student laptops, etc. That's a representative ratio of free/pay ideas flowing from at least one group.

Board members and administrators refrained almost completely from instinctively responding to ideas by saying money's tight. That point underlay all discussions, anyway.

The kitchen was open, serving coffeecake, cookies, coffee and tea, but the event lacked the genial spirit of an open house, and the refreshments mostly grew stale and cool in a corner of the room.

Helen Miner, a retired registered nurse who graduated from the district, spent some time in Raleigh, N.C., before resettling in the district, said, "This is a start. I know this is a hard time."

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