School remodel is overdue and critical for success


For The Beachcomber

We commend the Vashon school board for its decision to place a complete bond proposal before voters rather than a piecemeal version, or no version at all.  Teachers at Vashon High School (VHS) overwhelmingly favor the construction of a new building. We are heartened by the school board’s commitment to modernizing our schools, especially since VHS has been sub-standard for years.

Why do we need a comprehensive plan to rebuild classroom space at Vashon High School?

Not enough classrooms: There simply is not enough classroom space, which adversely affects the quality of education and the work environment for teachers.

Some teachers do not have a room of their own and carry their teaching materials with them from room to room. Sharing classroom space with one to three colleagues reduces teachers’ limited planning time. Work that normally happens during a planning hour or between classes cannot occur when another class is in the room. It is distracting, interfering with both the other teacher’s lesson and the learning environment.

The brief time students have between classes is golden — questions get answered about lessons, appointments are set to make up tests, information is shared to understand homework assignments and much more. When teachers have to vacate to make way for the next class, there is no time or place for these critical interactions with students.

There is only one computer lab for the entire main building, located in a former storage area. It does not even have enough computers for one class, and ventilation is sub-par. Inadequate classroom space even affects the ability of custodians to do their job; cleaning the commons area after lunch becomes a challenge since the space is immediately used as a classroom.

Inadequate space in the classrooms: The A building, where most classrooms are currently located, was not designed to house separate classrooms. Designed initially with an open-classroom concept, it was soon divided into separate classrooms — rooms that today are not big enough for the number of students assigned.  The consequences are often unfavorable.

Some students must relocate to the cafeteria to have enough space to take tests.

Classes can be so crammed that students must sit where they have difficulty seeing the whiteboards.

Dynamic activities where students can move about and interact are nearly impossible. In these small, poorly shaped classrooms, filled with 30 students and their huge backpacks, there is little room to navigate safely.

Poor ventilation and inefficient mechanical systems: We need classrooms with proper ventilation and windows. The 1990s renovation of the A building was simply putting “lipstick on a pig.” As this now famous cliché suggests, these repairs were inconsequential cosmetic fixes, with the exception of repairing the leaking roof.

Thankfully the rain now stays out — as do fresh air and natural light. The heating and cooling systems have always been dysfunctional. Bluntly put, it is hot, stuffy and stinky most days.

If the door is opened for fresh air, the kids by the door are freezing, and it does little to alleviate the stifling air in the rest of the room. 

Since these classrooms were not designed to be self-contained, they lack soundproofing; imagine trying to learn surrounded by a cacophony of sound.

Then there is the B building — referred to as “the bunker.”

It, too, has inadequate space, ventilation and light, plus no bathroom facilities. In some rooms, fixtures mounted on the drywall are loose and close to falling off. The building is concrete and wicks water. Place carpet on concrete, let it sit for 15 years, have 120 to 130 people walk on it five days a week and combine it with a ventilation system that is so poor that teachers must open the doors simply to get clean air, and you have the harmful environment our teachers live in 50 hours a week.

Overused theater space: Our outstanding theater arts program has served countless talented students. The facility (originally designed as a lecture hall) is inadequate for students wanting to learn the backstage and technical aspects of theater because of deficient lighting and sound systems. A teacher’s classroom space is in regular use as the “backstage” area.

The VHS theater is a revolving door of heavy use by community groups. Improved facilities will benefit not only VHS students but numerous community arts groups.

McMurray Middle School and Chautauqua Elementary: Although the majority of bond funds will go to improvements to the high school, it is noteworthy to mention that the other two schools will also benefit.

In fact, it’s particularly noteworthy this week, since students at McMurray returned to school last Monday to a malfunctioning boiler system and had to persevere with no heat on a day temperatures plummeted to the 20s. And the next day, these students had to start school three hours late — not because of the weather, but because of this malfunctioning mechanical system.

We encourage the community to attend one of the scheduled tours of VHS to see firsthand much of what has been described here, learn about improvements recommended for the athletic facilities and ask questions.

The Vashon Education Association is ready to move forward with Superintendent Terry Lindquist and the school board to get this project the support it deserves. The time is right for all of us to work together.

We love teaching. We love the children of our fellow Islanders. We are grateful for all the support the community has shown us throughout the years. Now is the opportunity to do something that should have been done long ago.

Please vote yes to building worthy facilities for our children and our community.

— Kristine Nelson, a school psychologist, is president of the Vashon Education Association. Stephen Floyd, James Krauss, Maren Williams and Martha Woodard teach at Vashon High School.

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