School looks into the future

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, February 22, 2017
The school board talked about the future of its buildings, the 2017/18 year calendar and the coach to student ratio during its board meeting Monday, Feb. 6.

What does the future hold for the buildings and facilities of the district? BLDD Architects provided an update on an overarching plan for the district.

“Your conditions are well maintained, and they’re not in a condition that immediately drives a construction project,” said Sam Johnson, representative for BLDD.

The architect firm, with locations in Iowa and Illinois, has joined the WLCSD facilities committee in talking a step back and forming a larger plan for the district’s infrastructure.

Johnson began by comparing student enrollment to the capacity of each one of WLCSD’s four buildings, the high school, middle school, elementary school and Early Learning Center.

According to the graphs, the high school and elementary school are fine regarding capacity until at least 2022, as long as enrollment remains similar to previous years.

“At the middle school and Early Learning Center, that’s where your biggest capacity challenges are,” said Johnson. “You will need to address capacity sometime in the future, but it’s not an immediate need at this moment.”

The Early Learning Center, with a capacity of 235 students could reach as much as 230 by 2021 if enrollment continues to rise. The middle school, with a capacity of 350 students could reach 340.

The graphs only emphasized what has been an ongoing issue at the Early Learning Center (ELC), lack of room due to more students and responsibility.

For example, the adequacy of the ELC, which takes into account the building’s structure, size, maintainability, safety, security and education environment was shown to be borderline.

This was according to BLDD’s Capacity vs. Adequacy chart, which found the other three buildings to be satisfactory or excellent.

“I think the main reason this facility (ELC) scored the way it did was just the lack of special spaces,” explained Sam.

With the progression of time and technology education changes, these “special” spaces would be space that encompasses new ways in which the building would provide education and needs.

In fact, one of the next steps BLDD recommends for WLCSD is addressing the short coming of special spaces for special services at the ELC, as well as music and special programming at the middle school.

The school board is also looking into changing the location of the bus barn, which currently sits just north of the middle school.

Finally, BLDD suggests the district move its administrative offices out of the ELC, as well as work towards becoming a three campus district. Of course, this is all speculation right now.

“There are areas being under utilized in our opinion, that could be providing more effective use,” added Johnson, bringing up the parking lot side of the middle school.

A more complete plan with scope, cost and schedule for short term and long term changes to WLCSD is still in the works with BLDD.

Next, a proposed calendar for the 2017/18 school year is still being questioned by the school board, specifically regarding it’s lack of a Spring Break.

“Somehow every other district manages to get a full winter break, two weeks, and a full spring break and still be done with school at the end of May,” said Board Member Emily Geertz.

She was bringing up calendars from Iowa City and Muscatine as examples. WLCSD has a Spring Break this year, but typically doesn’t in its yearly calendar.

“I’m just perplexed by why we always have this different schedule and treat Easter like a Spring Break, which I think is a bit irreverent myself,” she added.

The second draft of the 2017/18 schedule eliminates a Spring Break by adding two of its days to Winter Break and the remaining three days to Easter Break.

The reasoning according to the committee laying out the schedule, according to Superintendent Steve Hanson, has to do with travel.

“The administrators and teachers have noted that the most important break in terms of necessary length is winter break, because of people who make travel plans,” said Hanson.

Board Member Lynne Sasmazer also voiced her concern, believing that scheduling more days off around holidays takes way from possible student service and enrichment, projects.

“We are constantly putting a Spring Break around a family holiday, it’s not a great time to travel, it makes people make hard decisions about whether to stay home,” she stated.

“That is just going to make it impossible for us to schedule service learning or [enrichment projects] which we should really be doing more of for students during breaks,” she added.

A normal school year has 180 days, two for parent/teacher conferences and 178 for student learning. However, WLCSD builds its schedule by hours, not days.

By doing its schedules in hours, the year could be shorter in terms of days. But WLCSD opts to still have a 180 in all, even if that means having more total hours.

Board Member Geertz also brought up the idea of having the same schedule as that of Iowa City, creating an ease between its employees and West Liberty.

Therefore, the second draft of the 2017/18 calendar died by lack of a motion. A new calendar will be brought before the board at a later meeting.

Finally, the board would like to see guidelines for the ratio of students to instructors for extra curricular activities such as fine arts and athletics.

Basically, they want to know if the district is providing an adequate number of coaches for the number of kids in a sport, or its equivalent in band, choir, dance and more.

“I think there is a question at the middle school level where we’re talking about younger students,” said Board Member Sasmazer. “Is that really adequate supervision and training opportunities for those kids?”

Right now Superintendent Steve Hanson or the instructors from the after-school activities bring requests to the board for additional help.

“I know that in soccer, for example, the number of players to coaches is greater because the scheduling of JV and Varsity is always together,” said Hanson.

He plans to meet with Activities Director James Laughlin to discuss the issue further and bring information to the board.

In other news…

-The district will purchase a 65-passenger bus from Holland by spending $80,000 and trading in a 2000 Ford Thomas bus.

-The board held a second reading for revisions to board policies related to nondiscrimination, anti-bullying and anti-harassment. It also review board polices 900-905.2

-The Wellness Committee continue to meet in order to analyze a new version of the districts wellness policy.

-WLCSD adopted a resolution in support of “The Promise of Iowa,” a statewide campaign to call support for public education in Iowa.
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