We recognize that top tier public education is an important piece of the population growth puzzle and central to attracting new residents and employees to Wabash County. Education and workforce availability do in fact play long-term roles in employers’ decisions to invest in Wabash County. An overwhelming message received in developing the Wabash County Comprehensive Plan (and echoed separately by local business leaders) was that the strength of local schools is a major factor when families are deciding where to live. Focus groups for the Comprehensive Plan without exception voted well-funded competitive K through 12 education as the top priority for growth in Wabash County.

This comes as no surprise. Education is an investment in our future generation, serving as a springboard to vocations, interests, and informed decisions that shape a lifetime. But collectively, education also contributes to the larger economic and social framework upon which all of us depend to raise families, launch careers, and earn a living. No wonder so many of us share that common interest.

Few topics in the public square are discussed as passionately. Yet woven throughout those thoughtful conversations and diverse viewpoints seems to be a consensus that a quality public or private education is intrinsically worthwhile.

In July 2022, a group of civic and business leaders requested that Wabash County governmental officials come together with a group of Wabash County citizens (the “Wabash County Education Visioning Group”) to develop the specific elements of a competitive and sustainable K through 12 educational offering for Wabash County.

Many people signed on to that letter to support those efforts. Some did so because a declining population affects each of our primary and secondary schools in ways that range from the financial to the logistical to the academic. A few suggested that any serious study should encompass state-wide funding or referendum issues. Some thought the status quo was fine today but were less sure about the longer term. Others indicated it was simply time for the community to have that broader “blue sky” discussion – not to dictate an outcome or replace the considerable work already performed by local school boards, but to explore common interests and challenges together as a community. In any case, support for students and educators was evident – as was the shared wish of ensuring competitive educational offerings as enrollments trend lower.

Invitations for this Visioning Group were provided to members of each school board, North Manchester Town Council, Wabash County Council, Wabash City Council and Wabash County Commissioners to join alongside a handful of “at large” members to ensure that diverse perspectives in Wabash County would be a part of the discussion. Those who agreed to participate plan to begin meeting in a county-wide visioning process in early 2023.

We believe it is important to ensure that Wabash County provides what our students of the future need whether they are college bound, interested in skilled trades, or otherwise. The serious challenge of meeting 21st century educational needs becomes even more daunting if enrollment continues to decline, and funding continues to weaken. These two factors amplify the demands already placed on our stretched teachers.

There is no one pre-determined way to accomplish this goal – or the study itself. Rather, this group will explore and strive to gain consensus on the specific elements of a competitive Pre-K through 12 educational offering or offerings for our county. The group will then share their thoughts with our public officials and the entire community.

Now is the time to view this challenge as a county-wide opportunity to set a vision for Wabash County’s long-term success. Most importantly, it is time to do the right thing for our students to have the education they need and deserve.

We are pleased to share that the individuals below have agreed to serve on the Wabash County Education Visioning Group that will begin meeting in early 2023:

  • John Burnsworth, Wabash City Council
  • Rich Church, Parkview Health
  • Phil Dale, Wabash County Council
  • Tom Dale, North Manchester Town Council
  • Rick Espeset, Manchester Community Schools
  • Barry Eppley, Wabash County Commissioner
  • Steve Flack, Community Volunteer
  • Cathy Gatchel, Honeywell Foundation
  • Howard Halderman, Halderman Real Estate and Farm Management
  • Sam Hann, Wabash County Council
  • Rhonda Hipskind, Wabash City Schools
  • Rod Kelsheimer, Wabash City Schools
  • Sally Krouse, Community Volunteer
  • Scott Long, Mayor of City of Wabash
  • Adam Penrod, Manchester Community Schools
  • Jim Smith, North Manchester Town Council
  • Lorissa Sweet, Indiana House of Representatives

  • Kelly Stouffer, Ford Meter Box Company
  • Kevin Trotter, Community Volunteer
  • Dave Haist, Community Volunteer

The group, once formed, will set the direction and timeline for its work. Although the group carries no official status, it will benefit from the involvement and support of all of us in the county to do its work. We thank each of the individuals listed above for their willingness to show the bold leadership necessary to building a better future for our county and its students. We also thank this community in advance for its thoughtful input.

If you wish support the efforts of this group, please email us at wabashcountyeducation@gmail.com

Dave Haist