Cheney Free Press -

By JOHN McCALLUM
Editor 

Maximizing every inch of space for instruction

Cheney School District turns storage space into offices to make classroom space for its continually increasing student enrollment

 

John McCallum

A Windsor Elementary School class prepares to get lunch in the school's hallway as other students wait to assist them.

There are good things and bad things about working in the "horrible" media.

One of the good things is through our work, we get the chance to become a little bit of an expert on a lot of subjects.

As we go about our reporting, we have opportunities to go places others don't, talk to people most can't and observe things many people don't have the time to take in.

For instance, in covering the Cheney School District since 2004, I have observed many of the situations associated with overcrowding at the high school mentioned by proponents and opponents of the past two bond proposals.

The issues at the grade schools addressed in the current $52 million bond I witnessed as part of a three-hour tour Associate Superintendent Sean Dotson and Director of Finance Kassidy Probert agreed to take me on last October. One of the things leaving an impression was at Salnave, the only elementary school in the district not slated for expansion to handle crowded conditions.

All Salnave is seeking in the bond is $100,000 to improve main entrance security - a feature the measure would also pay for at the other four schools. It has no portables, as the other four schools in the bond do.

It does have a cafeteria, which might seat 12 students, but Dotson said that's not an issue. Meals are scheduled in "waves," and students like to eat in their classroom or in the large, sunlit commons area.

Salnave no longer has a computer lab - that was turned into a classroom because of shortage of space due to increasing student enrollment. The lab was just off the commons area, and as such, met the state requirements that classrooms have access to natural light.

Some computers were set up in a small space that used to serve as an intervention room. To build an intervention space, the district partitioned a staff lounge with a wall, creating a small room.

Basically, staff gave up some of their own space where they could go to eat, converse and plan together. It is a theme I found all throughout the district in my travels.

"We're basically maximizing all the space we can for classrooms," Dotson told me.

At Sunset Elementary School in Airway Heights, where bond passage would provide $7.8 million building 10 new classrooms and a new gym, one staff member has an office in a former audio visual equipment storage closet while another's is a desk tucked in a corner behind bookshelves in what used to be the library office, but now serves as storage for curriculum materials.

The library office is now a classroom. The gym is partitioned to serve as both physical education space and a cafeteria, while an intervention room repurposed as a preschool room prior to the opening of Snowdon Elementary School in 2013, may return to being a classroom.

Of the six portables, the first installed in 2007 when Dotson was the school's principal, four are classrooms. One was a computer lab, but is now an intervention room, and the other was used by the community health organization CHAS as a clinic.

With CHAS opening a clinic in Cheney, it could become a classroom in 2017 should the bond fail and enrollment growth continue.

Enrollment forced the district to bus students living south of U.S. Highway 2 to Snowdon or nearby Windsor Elementary. When Snowdon opened, new principal Shawna Fraser took me on a tour of the facility - built with state match money from the middle schools bond passed in 2010 - in which she showed me a wing with four vacant classrooms ready for growth.

By the beginning of the next school year, those classrooms were in use. In taking in Sunset students, Snowdon's project room became a classroom, the resource room an intervention room, and the four hallway "pods" designed for out of class projects and study areas have been put to use as class space.

"Otherwise, it's still the same, just full," Fraser said last October.

"Snowdon is still a very effective building for instruction," Dotson added. "It's just not designed for as many kids."

To the east down Hallett Road, Windsor could see $7.25 million to build a new, eight-classroom wing, multipurpose room and kitchen. It's kitchen is more for serving, with meals prepared at Westwood Middle School, while students rotate getting their food either in the community room - when it's not used by a P.E. class - or in the hallway by the kitchen.

As we walked, Dotson opened the door to the computer lab, which was the project room, and I was immediately hit by two things: the sounds of students learning French and a blast of heat similar to opening the door to a sauna. Computers give off heat, and a lot of computers give off a lot of heat, something Dotson explained the room was not designed to handle.

Unlike other schools, interventions at Windsor take place in the hallways. Dotson said they try to alleviate any stigma from this by also holding functions like assessments in the hallways too.

"We use hallways as classrooms," he added.

Betz Elementary School in Cheney is home to the district's special education Student Connections program. The program features more focused attention on students, and therefore needed to be centralized.

"If it were located somewhere else in the district, it would lead to students showing up at different times," Probert said.

Because of the special needs of students, the program requires two classrooms, which has reduced class space in Betz's main building as well as occupying several of its three portables. When a student acts out - which I witnessed while at Betz - the rest of the class moves instruction into an adjoining room.

"Students are taught how to ignore the outbursts," Student Connections instructor Tanya Amdal said. "So, we will do a room clear, go into the next classroom and pick up right where we left off."

John McCallum

Office space for an educator at Sunset Elementary School was created in a corner of what is now the curriculum library storage room, but was originally the library office.

Passage of the bond would provide $3.2 million for Betz, allowing for seven new classrooms, with some built for Student Connection purposes, Dotson said, and a secure entry. Security also would come from new classrooms that put the portables out of service, for the time being.

With the exception of the front entrance, Dotson said all of the buildings must be locked at all times. Using other doors to go back and forth between portables creates security leaks.

"During a lockdown, we are essentially dealing with four buildings (at Betz)," Dotson said, something magnified five times at Windsor, and seven times at Sunset.

How you wish to absorb all this is up to you. It's likely many of you have already made up your mind one way or another based on other information or opinion.

I'm just letting you know what I've seen.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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