Small town sensibility

Friday, February 24, 2012
Managing editor Murray Bishoff

There's something about small towns that is comforting to those who like them. Those who revel in crowds and scooting around in heavy traffic may have no understanding of the surprise shared by a local driver who comes to a crossroad in the country at the same time as four other cars (or pickups), or a sense of real quiet at night.

Stephen Chancelor, the new school superintendent in Purdy, told the R-2 Board of Education he "wanted to live on a dirt road." Board President Randy Henderson responded, "We've got 'em."

Chancelor's experience growing up on a farm in Smithton gave him an affection for small towns and small town people. When he was in town this week, he talked about finding a place for his children to grow up with small town values.

The Purdy School District offers a shining example of that. Retiring Superintendent Jerry Lingo beamed at the characterization of the school as "a tight-knit family." The Angel Tree outreach and the way the AmeriCorps Reading Coaches have bonded with children struggling with skills and family issues may not work in a big community. But it does in Purdy. And you only see 95 percent attendance in a school where students feel wanted and are getting something out of their school experience.

March is Youth Violence Prevention Month. Anthropologist Susan Lankford has prepared a new book, "Born Not Raised: Voices From Juvenile Hall," where she looks at troubled young people in San Diego, Calif. Lankford sees early childhood as a determinant for becoming at-risk teens, the need for programs that excite at-risk young people about learning and the importance of having consistent, loving, nurturing figures in the lives of children.

In Purdy, they've got a lot of that already figured out.

Small towns certainly have their own problems, mostly from a lack of resources. But it seems if you have the right resources, and caring is a big part of that, communities and their schools can grow strong citizens.

Henderson said the Purdy School Board wanted to find someone who liked small towns and wouldn't run away from one. Hopefully they have. We welcome Stephen Chancelor and his family to our part of Missouri and hope that he finds the commitment and the setting a good fit.