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Last days for Nash's only school

NASH, N.D. -- Linda Johnston has been a teacher, administrator, technology coordinator, parent and community cheerleader at Nash Public School for the past 26 years.

Nash, N.D.

NASH, N.D. -- Linda Johnston has been a teacher, administrator, technology coordinator, parent and community cheerleader at Nash Public School for the past 26 years.

So, she's expecting a vast array of emotions when the school bell rings Friday for the last time.

The two-classroom school in this tiny Walsh County community is closing. The nine K-8 students will transfer to Grafton Public Schools in the fall.

"I truly feel it's best for the kids," she said.

An auction is set for 10 a.m. May 30. The school building and all remaining fixtures and equipment will be sold.

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"It has been a tug of war in the heart and in the mind," said Nash School Board President Jackie Rutherford. "There's a lot of emotions that go into it. But as a board, we just feel it's the right decision for the students here."

No more

Nash is one of about 28 elementary school districts -- called graded districts, those not attached to high school districts -- in North Dakota, said Robert Marthaller, director of school organization for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

It's also one of the smallest.

"There's one in the western part of the state that might be smaller," he said.

Nash's school district land will be divided among three surrounding districts. According to the dissolution plan, effective July 1, about 77 percent of the land will go to the Grafton School District, about 19 percent to Valley School District, and about 4 percent to Park River School District.

The plan is pending approval by the State Board of Education.

Nash was settled in 1890 and named for Edgar Nash, part of a pioneering family of Nash brothers who in the late 19th century started a grocery store in the region that evolved into the Nash-Finch wholesale food company.

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The potato-rich farming community hit a peak population of about 55 in 1940. Locals say it's less than half that size today.

Nash School has been around since 1957. In the late 1970s, there was talk of consolidating Nash with one of the larger schools around, such as Grafton.

Against the wind

But district residents and parents rallied to keep it going.

The school's Mothers Club started a series of annual fundraising events, including Spud Night.

Virtually every family in the district cooked potatoes for the event. As they arrived at the school, they carried with them kettles of potatoes, all to be smothered with ham and broccoli or with chili toppings and sided with coleslaw, rolls, relish, cake and pop or coffee.

"As long as we're able to give our kids a good education and maintain what we have, we'll keep it this way," Johnston said at the 1988 event.

And they did.

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Looking back

Johnston started as a part-time kindergarten teacher in 1983, eventually expanding to full-time.

For the past few years, she has been the school's only full-time teacher. She gets classroom help from two teacher's aides -- Rochelle Grindahl, who is in her third year at Nash, and Rhonda Gaarder, who has been here just this year.

Cindy Olson teaches two mornings per week, teaching writing skills, U.S. History and North Dakota studies.

Dora Diaz has been the school's cook for the past three years.

Besides writing lesson plans and teaching, Johnston also has served as the school's administrator and technology coordinator.

Johnston, a Grafton native, and her husband, Jim Johnston Jr., live just four miles away. They've raised four children, all of them graduating from Nash and from Grafton High School.

"They were all here at one time," she said. "That was great for me. I was working more, and my kids were coming to school with me."

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In the 26 years that Johnston has taught in Nash, enrollment has ranged from nine or 10 to more than 30.

Turn the page

But the numbers don't look good in the future.

The district has just two preschool children.

Rutherford's husband, Richard, attended Nash School in the late 1970s and early 1980s, graduating from the eighth grade about the same time that Johnston started teaching here.

"Both of my boys are in a grade by themselves, and socially, they're missing out," Rutherford said.

Beau, the only eighth-grader, has been two years apart from his peers most of his time in Nash, which has no seventh-graders. And there were no eighth graders last year. Levi is in the fifth grade.

"You hate to see it close," Rutherford said. "It's quite an experience for the kids, but it'll be good."

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Neither Johnston nor her teacher's aides have jobs lined up for next year.

"I am retiring," Johnston said, adding that she might do some part-time teaching at Grafton. "If I want to sub, I have a large area to teach in."

Six schools are located within a half-hour drive of Nash.

Diaz will move directly from Nash School to Tri-Valley Migrant School in Grafton, where she will start cooking for the summer school program from early June until the end of October.

Fine memory

With virtually all classroom work completed for the year, the past few days have been filled with special events.

Tuesday was Clean-Up Day around the school and community.

Wednesday was Spring Play Day.

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Today is a field trip to Edinburg and rural Adams, N.D. They'll visit the Edinburg General Store, operated by Bernice Flanagan, a former teacher at Nash, and the farm of Allen and Judy Sorbo. Judy Sorbo has been a special education teacher in the past in Nash.

On Friday, they'll have another field trip, this time to Grafton, before ending the school year after lunch.

"There's a special relationship that builds in a small school," Johnston said. "They get a lot of individual attention here. It's a great place to work. Everybody knows everybody."

But she and her neighbors know the time for change is here.

"It'll be good for these kids to have classmates," she said. "I believe in a social education, along with a classroom education. These kids are good with older and younger students, but it's good to socialize with kids your own age."

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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