A proposal for a new preschool program to instruct at-risk children prompted with yet another School Board conversation about long-term facility planning.
School board members have repeatedly asked to revisit long-term facility planning, and Superintendent Scott Hannon has pledged to bring information to the board this fall that would initiate those discussions and decisions about the future of district elementary schools. Administrators admitted that without rearranging the current classroom layout, or shifting students between existing buildings, it may be hard to find space to accommodate the new program. That admission prompted dialogue about whether the district truly needs to close buildings due to declining enrollment, or whether Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) needs space to expand educational programming.
Marianne Texley, Goodview Elementary principal, and Margaret Schild, community education director, presented information to the School Board on the proposal Thursday. According to research, they said, at-risk preschool students who attend a quality early learning program are less likely to be held back a grade, less likely to need special education services, and more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college. The program would need a location, funding, and possible transportation, Margaret Schild explained.
Board member Brian Zeller was the first to bring the facilities issue into the discussion. “The space issue, to me, is confounding, because we’re talking about facilities, and [some say] we have too many of them, but now we’re stating we don’t have enough space?”
“It depends upon how you use the space,” Margaret Schild explained.
Zeller noted that if the only building with available space is Rollingstone Elementary, then clearly there isn’t enough space in the district. “I’ll go back to the statement I made to Scott [Hannon]. If we don’t have space, then I don’t see why we need to have a facilities discussion, because either we have the space or we don’t have the space.”
Board member Tina Lehnertz also questioned the need for space. “Our schools were built for K-6 and with enrollment that was bursting at the seams, and now we have declining enrollment and no space?” she wondered.
Human Resources Director Pat Blaisdell explained that although the class sizes are smaller, the same amount of space is being used.
Hannon noted that there is a price to pay for having smaller class sizes, but that a growing special education department has changed the use of some classrooms. Many classrooms are currently used for just three or four students who have special education needs. A future facilities committee will be looking at every building, walking through to see how each is being used and what the capacities are, Hannon said. “It’s butts and seats; how many butts do we have? And how many seats do we have available?” he explained.
Board member Steve Schild questioned the occupancy of the buildings adding, “I’m not willing to say that we don’t need to look at the buildings for downsizing.” If the numbers are looked at, the cost of the physical needs of the buildings need to be looked at as well, he said.
Board Member Jay Kohner followed up on Zeller’s comments regarding space and the use of the now closed Central Elementary. Central Elementary currently houses Miller Mentoring and Community Education offices. “The programming at Central has worked very well and a similar facility could work for the preschool too," he noted. “I hope this committee is going to look at...can we move programming around? What about space at the Middle School? I'm not suggesting this, but is this committee looking at things like moving 4th graders to the Middle School? Because how else do we utilize that space?”
The board will hear more information regarding the preschool expansion and use of facilities in the coming months.