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Thriving against the odds: Western Plains celebrates 15 years

RANSOM & BAZINE- From facing hardships that come with small schools and wanting to keep school pride, Ransom High School and Bazine High School decided to become one unified school district in 2004. This school district would come to be known as Western Plains USD 106. 

This school year marks the fifteenth anniversary since Western Plains USD 106 became a unified school district. Many people may not realize this, but this is something special to be celebrated. 

A contributing factor for the unification of the two communities’ schools in Ness County dealt with the declining numbers in enrollment. The goal was to keep the small schools open, so the idea of consolidating Ransom and Bazine schools came to creation.

Fifteen years later, USD 106 is still going strong.

Pat Flax, teacher at Western Plains since the consolidation, quoted, “Western Plains has evolved a great deal since the original consolidation in 2004.  That evolution has been necessary because our demographics have also changed a great deal. I think the changes we have made have been crucial to our longevity.”

Flax continued, “Originally, ‘10 years’ was mentioned a lot for Western Plains, and obviously we have surpassed that. We are delivering a very quality education in some traditional and not so traditional ways. Technology has really changed the way “education” can take place, and USD 106 shows many examples of these changes. We are individualizing learning much more than we did 15 years ago, and that’s making us better able to meet the needs of our student body.”

Many students have come and gone from Western Plains, but the school still continues to flourish. The school’s administration and board have done many different tasks to ensure the continuation of our school, from making cooperative agreements with different schools to ensure having sports teams, to the most recent addition by providing kindergarten through twelfth grade at both Bazine and Ransom. 

 Long time teacher at Western Plains, Julie Mauch, stated, “One of the biggest concerns I heard in the first several years we consolidated was about how long we would be able to stay in operation. I specifically remember Mr. Stumpf saying we had at least seven years ahead of us when he took over as superintendent. We have exceeded that time limit. It is awesome that we are celebrating 15 years!”

There are many memories that teachers have made over the years. When asked some of her favorite memories Flax exclaimed, “Our girls track team won the Cheyenne Conference league title in 2010 with nine girls.  We scraped points everywhere.  Everybody did four events, including a 4 x 800 m relay that made it around the track 8 times for a measly two points. Britny Pfannenstiel turned in a wonderful performance of four individual league titles.  The meet got postponed with three events to go because of lightning, and we had to come back the next day and finish it. It came down to the mile relay, which we didn’t have to win, we just had to get the stick around which we did and ended up winning the title by 3 points.  Also, last year’s WKLL Forensics title is a recent very, very good memory.  That title was a true team effort, and everything came together just right. I always say the magic doesn’t happen, but looking back, I feel like the wand got waved a little bit on that day.  That we could win that title by two points with all the variables that occur in Forensics is truly amazing!”    

The future is brighter than ever at Western Plains with the school seeing a rise in enrollment this year. Superintendent Jones commented, “I believe the future is brighter at Western Plains right now than it has been in several years. We have seen growth in our elementary school in each of the past three years and it is now larger than it has been since 2012.  Our district as a whole saw its first growth in 10 ten years.”

With the school ever so evolving, Mauch gave a statement quoting, “I believe there is some stability that has come to the district since the consolidation. People outside Ness County now know our school as Western Plains, not Bazine or Ransom. I used to be asked about the future of Western Plains often. I rarely get that type of question anymore. I believe that with this stability has also come strength. Western Plains has endured hardships financially, and yet it continues to prevail. Our district continues to offer a strong educational program despite reduction in staff and students.”

The environment at Western Plains is one of the reason why it is a place to be recognized by many people. 

This is because there have only been a handful of incidences of where bullying has taken place.  Jones stated, “The atmosphere we have in our buildings is very positive. In the past year I have had to deal with only a handful of discipline matters from the student body. I am not sure another K-12 administrator or any junior high or high school administrator in the state can boast that type of claim. That is a result of how our students work together and what they have created on a daily basis in our schools. The key for us going forward is to make sure we share with patrons the positive nature of what we now have going on at Western Plains. Once they realize what we have, I know that they would want their children to attend our district. Where else can you go to a school where there is no bullying taking place,  little to no discipline incidences ever occur and students are individually taught and gaining more academically than peer schools.”

With students coming from two different buildings it doesn’t affect how a class comes together and builds a bond. People have now come to realize how the staff and students at Western Plains have a close bond and it is a very opportunistic place for academics.As Western Plains USD 106 continues to thrive we take the time to recognize how far our district has come with overcoming obstacles and continuing to make the district known statewide.