Newton school board votes to close Walton Rural Life Center

Walton Rural Life Center.
Walton Rural Life Center.(Newton Public Schools)
Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 4:45 PM CDT
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NEWTON, Kan. (KWCH) - Update: The Newton school board on Monday night voted 4-3 to begin the process to close the Walton Rural Life Center. The primary question now becomes where students in the K-4 charter school will attend following the closure after this year.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, a 12 News photojournalist reported emotions reactions to the decision including some residents leaving the meeting in tears. 12 News will follow up on this story, gathering further reaction from parents, community members, school staff and district leaders.

Despite a vote last month from the Newton school board to keep the school open with reduced classes, the future is uncertain for Walton Rural Life Center.

The high school in Walton closed in 1962. The small Harvey County town’s elementary school survived. but due to declining enrollment, in 2006 the school was converted into an agriculture-oriented charter school.

The kindergarten-through-fourth grade school was the first public elementary school in Kansas to add agriculture to its curriculum. That’s part of the appeal for parents of students. Concerns about Walton’s future come as the school board is again slated to discuss the school with a closure reportedly not off the table.

Just last month, Newton school board members voted to keep the school open. Now, it's future is again on the line.

“I know they talked before about, ‘we can move this program to a new school,’ when there have been bond issues to build a new school or move it to a different school that’s already built to keep that school’s numbers up,” said Walton Rural Life Center PTO Member Sarah Thieszen. “This program won’t be the same. It won’t be the same.”

Thieszen said closing Walton Rural Life Center would be devastating for families and the community.

“There are so many kids here that they love it here because of the amazing program we have,” she said. “They’re going to struggle at a new school.”

The community continues to support the school and hopes it won’t meet the same fate as Walton’s former high school.

The Newton school board meets at 7 p.m. Monday. It’s unknown what if any action the board may take regarding Walton Rural Life Center.

“I want my 5-year-old brother to come here and do all the stuff we’ve done. I don’t want him to miss out on it,” Walton Rural Life Center fourth grader Ryker Hudson said.