Delano public schools faced with overcrowding issues

October 13, 2008

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

The issue of overcrowding is affecting all three of Delano Public School buildings, but it is currently more prevalent in the high school.

“Our school is designed for 700 students,” said Delano High School principal Matt Schoen. “We are hovering right around 770 now.”

This year, there will be approximately 175 seniors graduating, and next year’s freshman class will bring in about 200 students. This will put the high school at 200 or more students in three out of the four classes.

It is projected that within two years, the high school will be at 800 students or slightly over. In a school designed for 700 students, the pinch is beginning to be felt throughout the school.

There are immediate issues as a result of the limited space in the high school. There is a major need for science classrooms, especially for chemistry classes.

Unlike math, English, or other classes, chemistry is a lab class, and there are certain requirements that need to be met. There must be functional gas, plumbing, equipment, and safety requirements that need to be met, Schoen said.

Because the one chemistry room was not enough to facilitate nine sections of classes, an old science room was refitted.

“I’ve had to re-outfit an old original science room from the 1960s to get it up to speed to facilitate chemistry in the 21st century,” said Schoen. “Right now, I have six science teachers with full loads and five science classrooms, so they are rotating. We are making it function, but is it optimal – no.”

The high school may have to offer a zero-hour skinny class to allow students to take chemistry. Because of block scheduling, this would involve an early start for a 45-minute class taken all year round.

“There’s reasons the high school uses block scheduling,” said Schoen. “Forty-five minutes is not enough time to facilitate lab exercises in a day.”

Another area of concern is the cafeteria. The high school has two separate lunch times. Currently, staff is able to make this work, but when you put more students into the building, which will happen next year, they will have to re-evaluate how to facilitate lunches.

School staff could put tables in the hallway by the front office, or go to a third lunch, but this would affect the middle school lunch times, as well.

While trying to continue to push and challenge students to develop their 21st century skills, there are more advanced technology needs, and more computer lab space is needed.

Schoen said there are going to be times when teachers are unable to have prep times in their classrooms, and said the school is not outfitted to have another space for teachers to go to. This causes a difficult work environment for teachers.

“Just about every nook and cranny that we have is being utilized,” said Schoen. “I’ve got music students pouring out into an auxiliary type small room for lessons. I’ve got one teacher that’s in three different classrooms for every class they teach. That’s tough for a teacher – you’re basically on a cart moving from room to room.”

Though Schoen isn’t sure what the school board is going to do, he feels the long-term fix is building a facility and adding on to the high school.

“The original plan was, if we put up the 4-6 building, the high school would spill into the middle school, but two science classrooms isn’t going to fix our long term growth,” he said. “Outside of not going back to the community, we are just going to have to be that much more creative, and it’s going to stress students and staff, there’s no question about it. The high school is busting at the seams right now.”

Middle school at capacity

“Music is an issue,” stated Rene Klinkner, Delano Middle School principal. “The choir rooms aren’t big enough. We’ve got 120 students in a room that’s probably built for 80 or 90.”

School officials attempted to move choir to the middle school auditorium, but the lighting isn’t good enough, the set-up isn’t right, and risers can’t be left on the stage due to the drama department’s need for the auditorium.

“The biggest thing is lunch,” she said. “It’s working, but every seat is taken, and the four lunch times are back-to-back.”

While a class sits on one side of the cafeteria, the other side is cleaned and prepared for the next class.

In physical education, there are classes of 40 students, which is a lot for one teacher to supervise, especially since they aren’t all seated.

When gym classes are in the pool, sometimes a student aide who is life guard certified is able to help, but Klinkner admits this is still just too many students to supervise.

The effects of overcrowding in the middle school are also strongly felt by the special needs department.

“I have things stored in different areas of the school for my programming,” said Jessica Nelson, Developmentally, Cognitive Delayed (DCD) resource room teacher. “And, this is inconvenient since my students often have to leave my classroom to get their needs met and access their materials.”

Nelson said the middle school is in great need of additional space to provide an additional room for special needs students to address their sensory needs.

The cafeteria presents a problem to her students, as well. Though they try to reserve a table for students with special needs, oftentimes the cafeteria is so busy that it discourages these students from entering.

Elementary school is nearing capacity

For the elementary school, the main area where the lack of space is felt is the gym. Since it is being used throughout the day, there isn’t an open time for any other purpose other than scheduled gym classes.

Sometimes the gym is needed for school programs, special events, and indoor recess.

“Sometimes we would bring students into the gym after lunch,” said Darren Schuler, Delano Elementary School Principal, “so they weren’t just stuck in classrooms due to weather, but that won’t be an option anymore.”

When there is a school program or event, classes have to double up, and having up to 40 students, at one time, is difficult for physical education teachers.

Classroom teachers use gym time as their prep time, and if a class has to miss their gym class due to a program, this creates a burden for them, as well.

The first floor multi-purpose room has been made into two separate rooms. One side is for Gwen Briesemeister’s talent development class, and the other side is being used for grade level meetings and site base meetings.

“But, we envision that space being gobbled up here soon too,” said Schuler.

Another place the elementary school is feeling the crunch is office space. Some staff are doubling up, and there isn’t enough room for all staff to have their own space, their own desk, or a place to call home.

Though the school is currently doing all right with classroom space, this is the first year there have been seven sections at every grade level, and Schuler envisions next year not having a space for an eighth section.

The second floor multi-purpose room could be used as two separate classrooms, however, there are no lockers designed for that area, and that room is used often for many large events. It’s the one room school officials can use for a whole grade level.

Another option would be to put classes in the kindergarten wing, but one room is used by preschool, which would then have to be put at the community education building, and the other room is used for adaptive physical education.

“Though this year the growth here wasn’t as large as we expected due to construction and the economy,” Schuler said, “I’m sure when that’s done, we will see a lot of growth and then we have to wonder even more where we will put them.”

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