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A School's Final Days Before Deactivation

Peter Medlin
Paw Paw School

The final seconds tick off the clock and the school day is over -- one of the last of the school year at Paw Paw. Buses are lined up outside waiting for students as they trickle out.


The halls are a little more empty now because the senior class already graduated. It's a small taste of what the school will look like next year when there are no high schoolers left.


Paw Paw voters decided to deactivate their high school last November. They'll still have K-8, but the high schoolers will now be bussed to nearby Indian Creek High School.


Paw Paw has been facing the same funding and enrollment struggles plaguing rural schools across the state. Their total K-12 enrollment dropped by more than 30 students in the last five years. The district currently sits at just under 200.


In the meantime, Indian Creek will be adding more than 50 students.


The deactivation vote narrowly passed. Only one Paw Paw high schooler was old enough to vote in the election.


"And I actually voted to keep the school here," said Anthony Castaldo. He's a member of that final graduating class.


"It is weird," he said. "You have these bunch of other people who get to be alumni of their schools and get to go back to their school to visit and stuff. I don't really get to do that. But that's okay, I guess."


Even though he knew there were supporters of the deactivation, he was still surprised to see it passed.


“I remember there was a bunch of Facebook arguments about that, but I thought that was just an overreaction from a small group of people," said Castaldo. "I didn't realize how many people were willing to just deactivate the school."


Students at the schools are already very familiar with each other. They had homecoming together this year. And Paw Paw students had already been going to Indian Creek for some sports and classes.


Kendall Haubaker is a 16-year-old finishing her sophomore year at Paw Paw.


"Yeah, I take Spanish 1 and World Geography over there," she said.


One perk of the new students coming over is that Indian Creek will expand class offerings -- including an upper-level Spanish 4 course.


"I lived in Paw Paw my whole entire life, and my dad and his brother and my grandma also graduated from Paw Paw," said Haubaker.


Her family eventually supported the deactivation, but the decision wasn't easy.


"They were kind of surprised and sad, too, because Paw Paw's been here forever," she said. "And we're the only small town that has really lasted for so long."


Along with the students, only one Paw Paw high school teacher will move over to Indian Creek. Paw Paw Superintendent Stan Adcock said he hopes the district can keep on those other teachers any way they can.


Castaldo said some of his teachers were upset by the vote.


"There was a bunch of mixed reactions, but I know a bunch of my teachers didn't expect it," he said. "So a bunch of my teachers I know just took it kind of harshly, especially the ones who've been here for quite a while."


The end of the year has been especially bittersweet for Patty Torman. She's been an administrator at Paw Paw for 27 years, and she's retiring.


The news is still reaching some of the students, one of whom shouted "No! You are retiring?" after overhearing it in the hallway.


Torman said she’ll still be around. She lives close and has a granddaughter in elementary school at Paw Paw.


The school is still figuring out what exactly to do with the empty space without the high school.


But despite the deactivation, Paw Paw will continue to offer kindergarten through eighth grade.