Teachers: New school would solve problems
“As a teacher, I want to plan my day to be the most efficient and beneficial for my students as it can be. I want to have help for my kids when they need it."
-Cathy Adams, third grade teacher at Lincoln
Marv Smith moved to Iola in the fall of 1966 to teach at what was then a state-of-the-art science building, shared by Iola High School and Allen County Junior College.
He stayed for the people — the administrators and the students, his friends and neighbors — long after that science building lost its luster. He watched as bond issues to build new schools failed and saw other area communities, like Chanute and Garnett, build new facilities and welcome businesses and families.
Smith is now retired from teaching science, but still serves as cross country coach for Iola High School and substitute teaches when needed. He’s originally from Oklahoma and was teaching in Galena when a roommate suggested the position in Iola. At the time, the high school shared its brand-new science building with the junior college.
“I was happy to come here and have that building,” he said. “The laboratory was set up really nice. At that time, teachers were very mobile so I figured we’d be in Iola three to four years.”
Instead, Smith devoted his career to Iola. He appreciated the administrators, staff and students who crossed his path over the years. But after the college moved, much of the lab space in the science building became utilized for other things. Smith understands how a new science and technology center could better serve the needs of students and teachers.
“It’ll be more practical,” he said.
He also understands, perhaps better than most, how good schools attract teachers and families.
“That’s why I came here,” he said. “We let all these other communities get ahead of us. If I’m looking to move my family, that’s the first thing I’d look at.”
ROOMS WITH consistent temperatures. Reliable internet. A separate space for meals and phys ed classes. Less travel. Handicapped-accessible facilities. Older students setting positive examples for younger students. Adequate space for activities.
Those are among the “wish list” items USD 257 teachers shared in response to a question posted by Dimity Lowell as part of the weekly series Ask the Register.
Lowell’s question read: “I would like to know how teachers feel about a new building and the benefits from teachers’ perspectives.”
While some teachers were reluctant to share their personal opinions, others expressed support for the April 2 bond issue that will ask voters to support building a new elementary school for $25.5 million, and also whether to build a new science/technology center at the high school campus and replace the HVAC system at the middle school.
Teachers and other USD 257 staff are allowed to share their opinions when they are acting as a citizen, and can provide only factual information when they are at work and representing the school district. For the purpose of this article, those who shared personal opinions were asked to do so “off the clock.”
Comments from teachers often echoed each other, with recurrent themes emerging:
The attendance center configuration of three elementary buildings can require being in each building throughout the course of a day. Elementary teachers Julie Ashworth at McKinley and Mary Ann Regehr and Cathy Adams at Lincoln all expressed concern about the traveling requirements, both for faculty and parents.
“Parents are needing to go to multiple buildings to pick up students, so a central building would be handier,” Regehr said.
“Drop-off and pick-up is a problem,” Adams agreed. “Sometimes, we are waiting for quite awhile after school to make sure kids are picked up. It is not safe to drop off and pick up, due to the busy road that we are located on. We have had students get hit in the crosswalk.”
Teachers in special areas such as speech therapy and other types of support staff must travel between the three elementary schools, which becomes a scheduling nightmare, Adams said.
“As a teacher, I want to plan my day to be the most efficient and beneficial for my students as it can be. I want to have help for my kids when they need it,” she said.
While Ashworth, a kindergarten teacher, doesn’t need to travel to other buildings, she does have to take students to a mobile trailer for music class. That’s a mess during bad weather, she said.
“When it rains the sidewalk gets a huge puddle that covers it,” she said.
Ashworth would like to have all students, pre-K through fifth grade, under one roof for both practical and sentimental reasons. When fifth-graders are paired with kindergarten “buddies,” both ages learn about responsibility and cooperation. Being under one roof also would provide students with more opportunities to interact.
Ashworth said she also wants to watch her former students as they grow and learn. Now, she rarely sees students after the end of the year.
“Sometimes at the grocery store they run up and say hi. They want to know how you are doing. It would be nice to be able to carry on that relationship past one year,” she said.
Room to grow
The proposed elementary school would be a single level, an advantage for students with disabilities. Both Jefferson and Lincoln have two stories, which means administrators must shuffle around classes to accommodate those students who need a wheelchair or have other types of disabilities or injuries.
Classroom space also would be larger at the new school. That’s a problem now, Ashworth said. Her room has very little space for activities. And as a whole, McKinley has little room available for things such as conducting a meeting in private with a student or parent. There’s also no place to go if a student needs to be alone to work through an emotional issue.
“Kindergarten students can’t sit at their desks all day,” she said.
Outdoor space is at a premium at Lincoln Elementary, Adams said.
“It also floods when it rains here. No one can utilize that space. It is a health hazard,” she said of Lincoln’s enclosed outdoor area.
Teachers often complain about heating and cooling problems in the buildings.
“Some rooms are extremely cold while others are way too hot. The humidity has also been a problem. We have also had issues with gas smells in the classroom,” Adams said of Lincoln Elementary. “And when it rains, we have buckets sitting around the school and in the halls.”
Regehr said she worries how the district can continue to maintain the current systems if the bond issue does not pass.
“Will we want to spend on the present buildings or on new? We will need to choose one or the other in the near future,” she said. “Many say we cannot afford a new school, but another question is: can we afford not to build a new school?”
CHRIS Weide teaches physical education at McKinley and Jefferson, where the gymnasiums double as cafeterias. That means PE classes must be scheduled around mealtimes, and custodians need to move tables and clean the gym multiple times each day.
A new elementary school with a separate, regulation-sized gym would provide more opportunities, both for students and the community in general, Weide said.
Students could start PE classes at the beginning of the day or use the gym for activities before school begins.
“Studies show these activities improve concentration, behavior and test scores,” Weide said.
Plans call for a divider in the new elementary school’s gym that could allow two classes to use the space at once, or be removed to allow for larger group activities.
Storage also is an issue, with gym equipment sharing space with tables, chairs, a floor sweeper, deep freeze and other items.
“We stand tumbling mats around them to keep the kindergarteners from injuring themselves during activities. There is just nowhere to go with this equipment,” Weide said.
The recent flooding at the city’s recreation building also demonstrates the value of a new gym to the community, he said. Weide is also a girls assistant basketball coach at the high school. High school basketball teams use the rec building for practices but since the flooding are having to alternate practices at the high school. Another school gym could be space for basketball practice, and would be an alternate location for other community activities.
Dianne Kauth, a math teacher at the high school, said she’s excited for the possibilities that could come with a new gym. Though the needs outlined in the school bond issue won’t directly affect her work and her children have graduated, she remembers what it’s like to travel to other communities for events like basketball tournaments. A weekend tournament usually included an overnight stay at a hotel and meals purchased at local restaurants.
“We spent a lot of money in those towns,” she said. “Our town should be able to work together to bring something like that. Maybe we could host a sub-state. That’s a lot of sales tax dollars.”
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Clarification: In an earlier edition of this article, a comment from Lincoln Elementary teacher Cathy Adams referenced a "health hazard" at an enclosed outdorr area of Lincoln that is frequented by pigeons. The article incorrectly called the area a playground.