Superintendent Norm Stewart had a vision. It had been brewing for a few years. He’s led the Marsing School District for the last seven years as superintendent. Prior to that he served as the secondary principal in the district for a year. He moved to Marsing in 2012 from a small school district in Eastern Oregon where he had been the K-12 principal for twelve years. While working in the Echo Oregon School District, a small rural school district south of Hermiston, Stewart experienced what it was like to have local non-profit organizations, law enforcement, and social workers volunteer to work with the disadvantaged students and families in his school. Stewart brought those experiences with him to Marsing, a small rural district in Idaho that lies along the banks of the Snake River. He has always believed that, “schools are the centers of their communities” and that they can and should be at the center of student achievement as well as a resource for students and families in need.
Marsing has embraced the Community Schools Strategy, a concept based on the idea that students learn best when their physical and emotional needs are met. Many students and their families find it hard to access services that provide for their most basic needs. Students in these situations find it hard to attend school regularly, complete homework, and otherwise participate fully in the educational experiences schools provide that most people believe are essential to economic prosperity and security in a free society.
Marsing has about 1,200 residents. The school district has 853 students, 41% of whom are Hispanic, and 16% who are English Language Learners, student groups that historically perform below their peers. Marsing also has a significant level of poverty. Sixty three percent (63%) of Marsing students are eligible for the federally subsidized Free and Reduced Lunch program. There is a labor camp in Marsing, so many of their families are transient and leave to work in other parts of the country for parts of the school year. The median family income in Marsing is $29,670. That compares to the median income of $56,798 in Boise, just 32 miles away.
Schools who adopt the Community Schools Strategy seek to establish partnerships with local entities that can provide support and services for students and their parents on school grounds, an easily accessible location for families. Superintendent Stewart, the Marsing Board of Trustees, and the staff of the district have done just this, establishing important partnerships to provide vital services with many local agencies such as The United Way of the Treasure Valley, Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (IAEYC), Idaho Food Bank, St. Alphonsus Medical Group, St. Luke’s Medical Center, Terry Reilly Health Services, WICAP Project Launch, WICAP Head Start, Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office, Koenig Vineyard and Distillery, Lizard Butte Public Library, Marsing Lion’s Club, Logan’s Market, City of Marsing, and many more.
The Marsing School District has worked with its partners to provide extended day kindergarten, preschool (available on a sliding scale for parents), a food pantry, health and dental screening, mental health services, housing and utilities support, an afterschool and summer program that provides meals and tutor support and enrichment activities for its elementary and middle school students, and more.
With the passage of a $13.5 million bond to build a new middle school in Marsing, the district was able to convert the old middle school building into a community center that houses the district office, the district’s preschool program, the Head Start preschool, a food and clothing pantry, a substation for the county Sheriff, and space to provide community and parent education courses.
Superintendent Stewart, Board Chair Brad McIntyre and the other Marsing trustees were able to finance the new school without raising property taxes by retiring an existing bond and ending an annual supplemental levy. Those moves, supported by their patrons, allowed the district to further develop their Community School Strategy and locate it in a facility managed by the school district. They convened a meeting of potential partners this last November. Led by Jackie Yarbrough with the Idaho Food Bank, Christa Rowland with the United Way and Erika Lewis with IAEYC, the district was able to identify the community and school district needs and identify partners that could help bring the needed resources to Marsing.
So, a vision that began with the desire to serve students and their families in ways that will allow students to come to school “ready to learn”, will strengthen connections for students and their families with their school and community, and provide access to basic services for those in need, has blossomed in Marsing at a new community center known as The HUB.