Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories on USD 257 schools. The series takes an inside look into USD 257’s facilities and sheds light on the problems the district faces.
Although population within USD 257 district has dropped over the past decade, elementary schools still are short of space. Rooms that once stored mops and brooms now are resource rooms.
So what’s the problem?
“We now have to provide space for special education and computer labs,” McKinley Elementary Principal Lori Maxwell said.
The education styles in school are constantly evolving. Technology has made its way into classrooms and group learning is encouraged.
Elementary staffs at each school utilize every nook and cranny.
At Jefferson Elementary, its stage was converted to space for paraprofessionals and a hallway was blocked off to create a physical education office.
Kelli Francis, a teacher who works in a resource room, must share her classroom with another class. Bookcases and shelving act as a divider in her classroom. At times in the day there could be three adults working on her side of the classroom with six to eight students, with the same ratio on the other side.
“We have our own system in here and we get along really well,” Francis said. Though, “at times it is pretty cramped.”
Francis said the environment does affect students learning because of the distraction of different lessons being taught.
It’s the same story but a different book at McKinley, where a partition makes two classrooms from one. But, sound easily flows through to either side.
At Lincoln Elementary principal Larry Hart said students don’t have a place to go for small group learning. So, they use hallways.
“We make good use of what we have,” Hart said.
At Lincoln and McKinley space became so limited that the district purchased mobile units to provide extra space. The elementary schools share a music and art instructor and hold the classes in the units. Art and music are on alternate days.
“Everyday the custodial staff has to take down one classroom set-up and put up another,” Maxwell said.
Safety becomes a concern for Maxwell and Hart when the students walk from the main building to the mobile units. Having the students travel to the units in rainy or cold weather also is a concern.
“We’ve expanded as much as we can and the basements are off limits,” Scott Stanley, director of operations said.
This week McKinley’s basement had flooded, which left puddles everywhere. Lincoln’s basement also has issues with water and asbestos lined pipes.
PLAYGROUNDS and children go hand in hand.
Each school could use updated playground equipment but it doesn’t come cheap. Stanley said if any changes are made to the equipment it must be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.
Maxwell said McKinley equipment was falling apart and people have etched graffiti into slides.
The ground is scarce on mulch; to meet requirements the district would have to put in special rubber mulch and borders. Stanley said just to replace the borders and mulch for the three playgrounds would cost $93,000.
This school year at Lincoln the maintenance crew converted an old shower into an ADA compliant restroom. Crews have tried to convert bathrooms the best that they can, but sometimes doors aren’t wide enough or the space isn’t big enough.
The elementary schools don’t have elevators and when a child with special needs attends a school, arrangements must be made for provide for the child. This year Hart and his staff have had to move classrooms that were upstairs to the ground level to help out.
“We are aware that we have some students in preschool with special needs that are coming into our school next year,” Hart said. “We will have to accommodate for that.”