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Column: Parents, school staff members share stories of school space issues

By Joel Lorenz

WORTHINGTON — We’ve been talking a lot about the challenges faced by the Worthington School District over the last several years. Enrollment has grown by 1,100 students in just 10 years, and it continues to grow by about four classrooms of students every year. Today, I would like to elaborate on the actions the school district has already taken to manage enrollment growth.

The referendum that you will vote on Feb. 13 builds on years of continuous facilities improvement. We have made strides to improve our facilities to meet students’ educational program and activity needs. While these investments have solved some learning environment issues, our enrollment growth evolving changes in instructional programs have reached a point where creation of additional space at all grade levels is necessary to enable us to appropriately serve our students.

What accommodations have already been made due to increased enrollment? As enrollment has grown, and spaces filled up, school administrators and staff have found many creative ways to continue to provide a high-quality education for students. Especially at Prairie Elementary, where increased enrollment impacts are the greatest, we’ve done everything we can to use every available nook and cranny for educational space, keeping class sizes as close to best practices as possible. However, some class sizes are creeping up, and common spaces, such as cafeterias, hallways, gyms, and restrooms can’t be expanded —  the pinch there is the greatest.

Here are some examples of some of the accommodations that have been made since 2008, when the first additions were made to the middle school:

  • Additions to schools
  • Art rooms and 13 computer labs converted to classrooms
  • Teacher meeting and prep space eliminated
  • Teachers on carts (allows for classroom use every hour of the day at secondary grades but hampers teachers’ ability to sit and plan their day at a desk)
  • Space designed for storage used for small group instruction

I wanted to share what Prairie Elementary Principal Heidi Meyer says about the conditions in her building because they are striking.

“Transitions in Prairie hallways, especially over the lunch period, can be an adventure. With potentially two grade levels traveling at any given time, there can be up to 500 students (20-plus classrooms) moving through our hallways. Our restrooms are crowded; at high use times of day classes can be backed up for longer periods.

“Our cooks and support staff move 1,220 students through the cafeteria in roughly two hours and 15 minutes. This doesn’t leave our students much time to eat. To start earlier in the day is not feasible, as we serve between 600-800 students breakfasts every day; once breakfast clean-up is complete, our cooks move to lunch preparation.

“Our parking lots are congested; if there are any special events going on — even with only one grade level at a time involved — the parking lot becomes crowded and dangerous. People end up parking on grass, along the sides of designated space, and along the streets far from the building.”

This is just a portion of Principal Meyer’s statement. The middle and high school principals, and the community education and special education directors have also shared what conditions are like and what accommodations have been made at their buildings. A comprehensive list is on our website.

Referendum Open House is Jan. 23  An open house with presentation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23 in the Worthington High School Cafeteria. You are invited to drop in any time and stay as long as you would like.

We appreciate your efforts to make an informed decision in this election. You can find more referendum information on the district website. Feel free to contact us at info@isd518.net or by phone at 372-2172 with any questions.  

Joel Lorenz is a member of the District 518 Board of Education.

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