Teachers endorse ballot proposal
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Citing “working conditions that are not conducive to a learning environment,” several Jefferson City teachers announced their enthusiastic support for the bond and levy questions that will appear before voters on Tuesday.
In the election, voters will be asked if they want to issue $79 million in general obligation bonds — thus raising their property taxes by 30 cents per $100 of assessed valuation — in order to build a new, replacement high school and a new elementary school on the city’s east end. They also will be asked if they want to increase the Jefferson City Public School District’s operating levy by 25 cents, funding that will be used to address the district’s transportation, technology, security and professional-development needs.
Conceptual drawings of the new high school — if voters approve the project — call for seven career academies. Each of these “small learning communities” would be dedicated to different professional areas, but housed under one roof.
More than 40 teachers from the high school, Simonsen 9th Grade Center and Nichols Career Center lent their support to the Excellence in Education campaign, organized to support more funding for the district.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Spanish teacher Shane Williams said: “We are enthusiastically supportive of the plan to build one new high school because we understand what it could mean for our kids and this community.”
Williams, who graduated from JCHS, said the old buildings represent unnecessary challenges for teachers.
“The facilities no longer meet the instructional needs, nor do they properly accommodate the growing number of students that are shoehorned into a building that was not designed for the number of students or instructional needs of the 21st century.”
He noted his own classroom had only one electrical outlet in the room. “For one teacher and 28 students,” he said.
Other complaints include windows that whistle and fail to keep out the cold and air-conditioning units too noisy to teach over. “My students, year-round, are freezing or sweating depending on where they sit in the room,” he said.
Teachers who attended the press conference mentioned a litany of shortcomings, including classrooms that are too small, hallways that are too crowded and a lack of access to the library.
Carissa Ash, a math teacher at Simonsen, has a constant stream of people entering and exiting her classroom. “You have to walk through my class to get to the next room,” she lamented. “Every time someone is tardy or needs to use the restroom, it disrupts my class.”
In the same building, Physics First teacher Lindsay Harris said her room was built to accommodate 23 students, but she has 26 enrolled, so she has banned students from bringing their jackets and backpacks to class because there simply isn’t room.
Brett Meyers, the JCHS director of bands, said he tries to monitor — and keep locked — the exterior entrance to the fine arts hallway. He sees the door as a weakness to the school’s security. “Our children are in a different learning landscape than we were 20 years ago,” he said.
Williams also lamented the high school’s lunchroom. “They struggle being herded like cattle through the lunch line to then have to struggle to find a place to sit shoulder to shoulder like sardines,” he said.
“Not only do they not have adequate space for learning, they do not have any space to decompress and gather their thoughts. The noise levels with so many students in such a limiting environment escalates stress levels for everyone,” he said. “We are fitting classrooms and programs in spaces that I am embarrassed to discuss with anyone.”
Williams also said separating the freshmen from the rest of the student body is not “what’s best for kids,” and he lamented the district’s sports facilities are scattered across town.
“What would it do for the climate and culture, for Jay Pride, if all sports facilities were actually on one campus,” he said.
He also argued that technology is “critical” to delivering a high-quality education and the current facilities are not fit for retrofitting.
“Kids need access to technology that ensures reliable access to information, collaboration with people across the globe and the tools for students to share their learning with others,” he said, noting that many community leaders, parents and educators worked for more than three years to perfect the new-school concept.
Williams thinks the new building will lead to lower dropout and remediation rates, higher test scores and students who are better prepared for college and careers.
Lou Mazzocco, a teacher at the high school, said some of the new revenues would resolve the high school’s transportation issues. Currently, only students who live more than 3.5 miles away from their school can take the bus to school. He said some of the district’s most at-risk teens live within that radius.
If the operating levy passes, that radius will be reduced to one mile.
“I can tell you one of our regular issues is getting kids to school ... that is critical,” Mazzocco said. “When it rains, I can count on a decrease in attendance of 10 to 15 percent. When it snows, attendance drops by 50 percent,” he lamented. “If we don’t get kids in the building, we don’t have the opportunity to educate them.”
Brenda Hatfield, one of three chairs leading the Excellence in Education campaign, said the district’s teachers know first-hand the challenges students face.
“We have some of the finest teachers in the country right here in Jefferson City,” she said. “They deserve our respect and praise.”
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