‘This was not expected’: Community members reflect on school closure, wonder what is next

NEWCASTLE, Neb. - After the town's only school closed, community members have concerns as kids head back to class.
"This was not expected here," said Jessica Gotch, Newcastle employee.

Newcastle's elementary school closed its doors in June. 

"This was not something anybody wanted," said Hartington-Newcastle Superintendent AJ Johnson. "It's just something that the board felt had to happen at this point in time." 

Time is something community members wish they would've had more of.

"The closure was hard," said Gotch. "It was extremely fast."

Gotch, a Newcastle alum, was one of the dozens at the school board meeting in June pushing to keep the school open.

"I feel like with a year with working together with Hartington we really could have figured out some ways to build our community," said Gotch.

A 5-to-1 vote closed the school, where 16 kids were supposed to attend this year. 

"It was overwhelming to see how parents were scrambling and calling different communities, making drives that were completely out of the way to acquire daycare," said Gotch.

Despite a move to keep the preschool, young Raiders will now trek out of town.

"That's more of an anxiety than anything, sending those little, little kids 30 miles away," said Gotch.
Johnson remains hopeful.

"Our biggest concern is just having the young kids just adjusting to their day, but it's been happening, so we feel like that transition can be seamless," said Johnson.

This school isn't the first to close its doors in rural Nebraska, and it won't be the last.

"Populations in rural Nebraska are declining," said Johnson. 

"In the state of Nebraska, there's a lot of challenges for some of the smaller schools," said Kyle Finke.
Finke is the superintendent for Summerland School. It's an entirely new district that consolidated last year. He said the school's success stems from its priorities. 

"The reason for the consolidation is for the students and putting them in the forefront," said Finke.
Gotch said a bigger school does have some benefits. 

"More opportunities to do those things like sports and drama," said Gotch. "Things that we just weren't really able to offer them here with such small numbers."

Despite its dwindling size, Newcastle will always hold weight.

"This building itself, I mean it's just a legacy," said Gotch.

"The school board is committed to keeping the facility in good shape and to keeping the grounds maintained until we can make some sort of transition," said Johnson.

Hartington-Newcastle Schools owns the building, and no official plans have been announced for what will come next. For now, it holds memories of the past, and for Gotch, the potential for the future. 

"It just brings back all the feels," said Gotch. "I'm sure a lot of high schools made me feel like that, but this was special."