SOUTH WHITLEY — The halls of Whtiko High School got a little more crowded this year as it transitioned into Whitko Jr.-Sr. High School, now playing host to students in seventh through 12th grade.

After a couple months of operation, principal John Synder is encouraged by the feedback he has received from students and staff, but he is aware that like any major change, there are a few growing pains.

Consolidation talks often revolve around the finances of a district. Whitko Community School Corporation’s were no different. Declining enrollment, a phrase most schools in rural Indiana are coming to terms with, suggested consolidation as a viable option to help Whitko remain financially stable without sacrificing quality.

“We just felt it was a proactive approach,” Snyder said. “So instead of having two separate buildings, we (brought) everybody under one roof, thus consolidating some positions and eliminating some costs.”

So, when school started for Whitko students on Aug. 9, a lot of them faced not only a new year, but a new school. Snyder shared the Whitko Jr.–Sr. High School community was prepared for this and has been integral in helping smooth the transition.

“I’m so proud of our students and parents and staff for making this transition as smooth as possible,” Snyder said. “There’s been such a spirit of cooperation through this whole process.”

One of the missions of this transition, according Snyder, has been fostering the positive culture he saw when the school was nine through 12 and making sure the new junior high students were included in that culture. Mentoring programs are in development to build those bonds between the junior and senior high school kids and students are reminded of the need for understanding during this period of change.

“We’ve always had an outstanding culture in our building with our kids and staff,” Snyder said. “Now the high school students have to share space with the middle school kids, so they have to adjust and of course our junior high kids are learning from our high school kids.”

With all academics under one roof now, Snyder also predicts that the environment will promote further student achievement and provide access to more advanced courses for younger students who may not have had these options before.

“Academically, we’re going to see a more seamless vertical integration of curriculum,” Snyder said. “Younger kids from an even earlier age are talking about some of the things we expect out of high school kids in the past. By the time they reach high school, they’ll move on at a quicker pace.”

Lunch periods and classes are separated for the most part, and certain hallways are reserved for junior high lockers, but in the passing times all grades walk the halls together. While weaving them into the pre-existing culture, there is also efforts being made to make sure that the junior high identity is preserved and not dissolved amidst the bustle of the transition.

“That junior high identity is very important,” Snyder said. “They’re two different groups of kids…so it’s just about managing and valuing the differences of the two groups. That’s one of the challenges for our staff, making sure we value both.”

One of the challenges that is partially out of the control of Snyder and students is the amount of space that the school offers. A building that once only held four grades now holds six. According to Snyder, though, a little less elbow room is not a huge concern.

“When you bring two schools together, there’s always some things you don’t think of,” Snyder said. “This campus isn’t really built for a junior-senior high school but we’re making it work and will continue to tweak that.”

Snyder and Whitko see this first year as a “foundation year,” one that he is confident will lead to further success and quality education for its students.

“Our goal is to be the best small school in the state of Indiana,” Snyder said. “We’re going to continue to grow as teachers and push our students to have high achievement. Pursuit of excellence and high achievement, whether we’re seven though 12 or nine through 12, that doesn’t change. We want to be a school that stands out.”