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School board works to keep community alive
(OREdNews is profiling a handful of school board members from around the state in January during School Board Recognition Month.)
Troy, Oregon, is what you might call remote.
“Unless it is hunting season, we have no traffic,” Troy School Board member Dick Hone said. “If a car goes by, we go out and look.”
Nestled in the far northeastern corner of Oregon, Troy is 50 miles (not all of it paved) north of Enterprise, the closest community of size. Like a lot of Oregon communities, the town’s civic, cultural and social center is the Troy School, a single-room K-8.
Nearby communities such as Flora withered away after they lost their schools. Troy School Board members work to keep the school alive and, by extension, their town.
“We’re just trying to hold the community together,” said Board Vice Chair Mike Crawford.
It’s a precarious existence. Ranching and logging don’t employ as many as they used to, and the 275-square-mile school district has fewer than three dozen voting adults. The five-member board outnumbers the district’s two students, both in eighth grade, and lone full-time teacher. The district also has contracted an art teacher, music teacher and custodian.
The district doesn’t offer high school classes, so students typically must go to Enterprise or homeschool. With the two boys graduating, the district needs to find more students.
Like other board members, Crawford is talking with area parents to keep the district going next year. Families who move into the area often start by homeschooling their children. Sometimes they don’t even know a school is nearby.
Board members make the case for the academic advantage of a personalized education that allows students to go at their own pace. They promise plenty of one-on-one teacher attention, the ultimate in small classes.
Crawford said the district looking at other possibilities such as transfer students who live closer to Troy than Enterprise or Wallowa. Crawford said they are also exploring if there is a way students in nearby Washington state who can’t easily attend their local school would be able to pay to enroll in Troy.
The school nearly closed a few years ago when it had no students enrolled. Teacher Fred Byers was told to find work elsewhere and had another job lined up when the district found some students.
Byers has been teaching for 40 years, the past 10 at Troy, and he was happy to stay. His wife, Pam, is the district’s certified music teacher.
Byers prizes the close relationship he has with board members and that they value public education. He said it’s not like when he was in Idaho, where some board members ran with the intent of trying to shut down the schools.
Crawford retired to Troy about 10 years ago after being an information technology professional in Seattle. He lives about 10 miles from where he grew up, and he chose Troy because “it’s more civilized than some, much less civilized than others.”
With so few people, school board members have to be careful about quorum rules wherever they go. Mike Crawford must be careful in his living room, because he is married to fellow board member Rene Crawford.
Rene is a new board member, elected in 2021, but has lived in the community since 1991. She worked for the school as a custodian and groundskeeper in the 1990s when the school had a dozen or more students. Retired, she volunteers time at the school to help with crafts.
She stepped up for the school board when nobody else did because she sees her community gradually shrinking. Wallowa County closed the library, and a new bridge east of town has rerouted traffic, meaning less pass-through business for the restaurant.
“Our school is an important part of keeping our community alive,” she said.
Hone has been working at it longer than anyone on the school board, even though he has neither children nor grandchildren in the district.
A former chiropractor and pilot for the Oregon, Iowa and Washington Army Guards, Hone joined the school board not long after he moved to the area in 2005. The board was short of members, and they recruited him to join. He has always been involved with community service, from helping troubled youth to working with service organizations such as Lions and Optimist clubs.
Occasionally he would miss a school board meeting because his work as a contract pilot for the U.S. Department of Energy involved missions all over the Western Hemisphere that would sometimes last weeks. He retired fully in 2016.
Hone could have a few more years to serve. He said a family that just moved into the area has a couple of children ready for the lower grades, and he thinks they will enroll.
A man of few words, he shrugs off his volunteer work.
“It’s a community service, like all others,” he said. “Somebody has to do it.”
He said the volunteer work is enjoyable, but a little less so the past two years. With COVID-19, they’ve halted the usual social functions at the school.
It’s a glimpse of the what the area might be like without its school.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
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