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GREG HARTON: School, city leaders have a reunion

by Greg Harton | January 10, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Have you ever been to a reunion of your senior class from high school?

Reunions always remind me why I built friendships with some fellow students or even teachers, but they've also over the years prompted a bit of regret that I didn't give some of my fellow Mills High School Comets a fair chance at friendship. As a teenager, it was easy to fall into the trap of cliquish behavior that treats those perceived as "different" as outsiders.

It seems to me, now, that such a dynamic prevented some deeper friendships from even having a chance to start, all based on preconceptions of differences that seemed big in a high school setting, but in hindsight probably would have proven irrelevant if as a teenager I'd been more capable of dropping my guard to discover our common ground.

Maybe that's asking too much of many teenagers.

It's different for people who still live in the communities where they grew up, but for those who no longer see their high school friends regularly, reunions provide a chance to renew friendships. By the time those weekends are over, there's a rediscovery of why we cared so much for each other and promises to better stay in touch.

Then another 10 years slips past. A new reunion and another reminder of how valuable those high school friends were in influencing who we are even today. I wish I was better at tending the fields of long-ago friendships in the midst of busy, everyday life of work and raising a family.

It may, at first, deliver a little rhetorical whiplash to suggest the preceding thoughts remind me of the relationship between a lot of city councils and school boards. As I got in a few steps in on a treadmill Thursday night, I watched on YouTube as the Fayetteville City Council took up discussions of a rezoning proposal from the Fayetteville School District. Hey, there's nothing wrong with combining a little physical and civic health, right?

The school district proposes a new middle school on 23 acres in west Fayetteville on the east side of the relatively new Rupple Road, just north the roundabout at Catalpa Drive. Despite pleas from school leaders for a quick rezoning of the property, the City Council on Thursday left the proposal to simmer until its next meeting, hoping more time might be part of a recipe to produce a dish everyone finds more palatable.

From a school district perspective, the school project stems from months and months of intense work examining every detail. From a City Council perspective, it's a new proposal council members are only now getting a chance to sink their teeth into.

And from the perspective of a newspaper guy who has watched 25 years of Fayetteville public policy-making, I'm reminded of my high school reunions. Every few years the school district needs approval from the city for a project that, once it reaches the City Council, reminds everyone the two independent governing entities meant to do better at having an ongoing, collaborative relationship, particularly on major projects. In between these civic "reunions," though, such dreamed-of collaborations fade as city and school leaders return their focus to the more immediate, and separate, concerns of running a municipality and operating an educational system.

The result, again, is a school district that needs a quick decision and City Council members who want to make sure a major, neighborhood-defining institution such as a school fits into an overall community vision for how the Fayetteville of tomorrow will look and feel.

As with my high school buddies, it's not that anyone is doing anything wrong, but that we know we could do better.

Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAGreg.

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