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Harnessing Lusiana's human resources: (Francesco Montemaggiore's dedication to schools in Italy).

Three quarters of Italy cannot be farmed with modern equipment. The people, who have been living there since prehistoric times, would have left if the state had not provided services and offered incentives to stimulate the local economy. One of these services is maintaining schools, complete with headmaster and administrative staff, even when there are only a few classes.

The small village of Lusiana is the centre of a constellation of hamlets spread over the slopes of the Alps, north of Venice, and climbing to a plateau at an average altitude of 1,200 metres.

For 20 years Francesco Montemaggiore was the local mayor here and headmaster of a middle school with five small classes in Lusiana. The `light' task of running the school suited his need to devote time and energy to his civic duties.

At the end of World War II the Lusiana area provided a meagre living to a population Of 7,000. Now only 2,900 people live there and most of them commute to jobs in the plains.

In the early Nineties a national debt amounting to 120 per cent of GNP forced the Italian government to slash expenditure by reducing the budget of various ministries. This indirectly penalized the mountain areas. As a result many small schools were being closed or integrated into schools in the plains.

A group of members of parliament formed a committee to draft a law that would reconcile the requirements of the budget with the needs of the mountain regions. Montemaggiore was invited to sit on the committee where he suggested that an article of the law should deal with the school system. The legislation passed into law in 1994 and allowed schools in sparsely populated areas to merge under a single headmaster even if they served children of different age groups.

Montemaggiore gave up his civic posts and offered to be the first `guinea pig' for the new law. He found himself in charge of a school system with 14 establishments as far as 25 kilometres apart from each other, with 600 pupils and a teaching staff of 90. The size of his school district made it easier to draw on human resources and funds, which considerably improved the service his schools could offer.

He values the local people's self-reliance, respect for authority and strong family ties. He acknowledges that there is often antagonism between the hamlets, which is typical of sparsely populated mountain regions, and in this case is enhanced by ethnic and historic causes. Roughly half of the population served by his schools belongs to a German enclave on the plateau, which was never subdued either by the Romans or the Venetians. The other half has Romanized, Venetian-Celtic origins.

Montemaggiore sees these differences not as a drawback but as a resource. With the support of the area's mayors he has organized optional courses for children and adults and established a children's chorus and theatrical group which have become a focus for civic and cultural life. Parents are also involved, and this helps them to appreciate the different regional traditions. Both the choir and the theatrical group have won prizes in national competitions; this has enhanced the self-esteem of the mountain folk.
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Author:Costa, Adriano
Publication:For A Change
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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