The following post was originally published in the Windham Independent and is being with permission by the author, Kathryn Bates, Principal of Windham Center School
Background In 1939
Windham Center School opened its doors as Windham’s first public elementary school, Windham Grade School. At that time, Windham Center School had a total of three classrooms. As the years went by and the population of the town grew, renovations were completed at the school that included the addition of a gym and several classrooms. After the last renovation in 2000, Windham Center School was designed to accommodate 472 students (WSD Facilities Study, 2011); however, over the last five years, WCS enrollment has averaged between 630 and 750 students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2000), a school is overcrowded “when the number of students enrolled in the school exceeds the number of students the school was designed to accommodate.”
Currently there are 743 third, fourth, and fifth grade students enrolled at Windham Center School. Our students are housed across two separate campuses: Center School and Windham High School. There are 32 regular education grade level classrooms for grades three through five. The average class size for each grade level includes: Grade 3 at 21, Grade 4 at 24, and Grade 5 at 25.
The most significant impact of overcrowding at Windham Center School is the fact that our students are housed across two campuses. Four of our third grade classrooms are currently at Windham High School. In addition, class sizes are above the NH state average of 19 for grades three and four, and 20 for grade five. WCS has no designated space for art, music, band, physical therapy, English as a second language, or computer. Staff members often share small instructional spaces throughout the school. For example, seven response to intervention staff share a single small location. In addition, programs such as enrichment and foreign language were eliminated six years ago due to capacity issues. There is simply no additional physical space available to accommodate the current enrollment at Center School.
Other effects include a strain on current services such as administration, guidance and special education. Travel time between campuses, for students and staff, reduces available instructional time. In addition, Center School relies on four Golden Brook School teachers to provide gym, art, and music classes for our four third grade classes at Windham High School. There is also a lack of adequate parking. During the course of the day, and when events such as open house occur at the Center School campus, families and volunteers find they must park along the road, across the street, and across the intersection. This presents safety concerns and causes significant traffic flow issues at dismissal time and during events.
Plans Implemented to Alleviate/Mitigate
Windham Center School has already initiated numerous plans to help alleviate/mitigate the impact of overcrowding. Most notably, Windham Center School houses four third grade classrooms, and associated support services, at Windham High School. In addition, band takes place on the stage, some concerts take place in the WHS auditorium, art and music are on carts, and response to intervention and English as a second language take place in various spaces throughout the school (one space being utilized is a stair landing). A former classroom space was converted into five dedicated spaces for special education, and a former conference room and two staff bathrooms were converted into a single special education space. Parking spaces have been added along the rear driveway for staff/parents, and plans to move the rear fence, add additional parking spaces, and move the paved playground area to behind the playground equipment have been proposed. Other plans include a request to extend the front driveway in order to alleviate the dismissal and event traffic congestion.
Conclusion and Next Steps
As noted by a parent on the WCS Facebook page, Windham Center School is a school “for children and about the children; the way it should be.” This is our primary focus. We continue to provide for the needs of our students, but do so under the constraints of our capacity issues. Our next steps are dependent upon any construction that may take place to alleviate this serious issue. Barring construction, we will need to examine how our classrooms are configured and likely need to further increase class size. Windham Center School simply has no available and usable space left.
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