A few concerns with older school buildings

To the editor:

This school year I am teaching Title 1 in the oldest building in the district, West Side Elementary (built in 1955). While West Side has many positives there are a few concerns that come with an older building. Often after a rain or the snow melts, there will be leaks coming from the ceilings. One of these leaks happens to be above the steps, so you can imagine how dangerous and slippery this can get (although the caution signs are always up alerting those passing by). Cracks are also apparent in the walls throughout the school. he windows leak and boxelder bugs come in and out, depending on the temperature. There are also drafty areas, mostly by windows, and the temperature is hard to regulate from area to area. Doors stick or don’t shut completely – we had a teacher get locked in her classroom for an hour and a half just last week! Heaters (radiators) are always clinking and clunking and temperatures seem to vary depending on what area of the room you are in. In our Title 1 area, we have students working in small groups. We also teach larger groups of students depending on the skill they need to work on every three to six weeks. Our Title space is limited. When I have a group of four kids in my area (that’s the max due to space), I can’t walk around them to help them or walk around them to reach the board. We have no space to spread out for silent reading, testing or doing individual work. I have on occasion used the back storage room/bookroom to place students for testing. This storage room is also where another Title teacher hosts her groups due to space as her office isn’t roomy enough to work with more than one student. Since this storage area doesn’t have room for a table/chairs, the students sit around on rugs on the floor, along with the teacher. It often gets very warm in this space due to all the technology cords/equipment running in there generating a lot of heat and noise, but this space is preferable over the noise and high traffic of the cafeteria, where we often have to teach larger groups of students (more than 4). The cafeteria is also used during the day by our Assurance of Mastery Coaches to tutor small groups of students. Another issue at West Side is the quality of the water. I was shocked when I started teaching here last school year and went to wash my hands with warm water and I got orange water!! I soon found out that the water at West Side has been orange for some time and it comes from the need for new pipes, which run throughout the school. Want a drink from the drinking fountain, anyone? There was an expensive leak just this last winter and we were without hot water in the staff bathroom for some time due to the extent it took to fix the issue. Which, if you haven’t seen the staff bathroom, come and take a look! It is quite small and seats one, very low to the ground. Which I am happy to just have a bathroom close by…the Park Side portable unit has none, so teachers and students have to put on their coats to go inside to use the bathroom. That spring weather can’t come soon enough! One should also note that the parking at West Side is very limited and often parents, staff, student teachers, substitute teachers, and guests have to park on the street or over at Legion Field Park. Also of concern is safety – not only due to the congestion in the parking lot, but also the security of the main entrance and other areas in the building (special needs accessible). I know safety and security is an issue at other buildings in the district as well.

I just want to provide some insight from a primary educator’s perspective. I do understand the tax impact this will have, but aren’t kids worth it? My bottom line is this…our world is changing, our students are changing, our curriculum is changing. Our buildings need to change as well to accommodate the needs of our learners. It is NOT about wanting a new building to work in. It IS about meeting the needs of our students in the best possible way that we can and I feel that by allowing students to have the space they need to learn and grow in an environment conducive to learning, they will not only grow but flourish. Many of us (teachers) are giving our students 100% with what we are given and we don’t complain. Many teachers do not take the time to voice our concerns because we are exhausted. Our school plates are FULL and many of us don’t have the energy or time to share our thoughts. Many teachers work around the clock for the betterment of our students because they are our future. Is it too much to ask that we give our students a top quality education through not only our talents, time and resources, but with buildings to meet students’ needs, security and safety?

Please, I encourage you, if you haven’t been in our buildings during the school day or have doubts to come and see for yourself what learning is like at our buildings, especially at West Side and Park Side. You will see smiles on teachers’ faces and the students will be learning because that is what we do. However, do notice the space many teachers or programs are working in, ask teachers a few questions about their space, get a tour from a teacher if one is available.

Please join me in voting on Tuesday, April 18.

Amber Swenson