Jason Marciano has been principal of Lincoln Elementary for just a few weeks, but he has already come to two conclusions.
One, his staff consists of dedicated individuals who are constantly seeking new ways to improve academic standards for their students. Two, they are greatly hampered by the buildings they teach in, especially for the “special” teachers — those who teach art, music, physical education and more.
The way special teachers are set up between schools is uneven and this means students at one school are not getting the same quality of education as children at another school.
“It impacts the Jefferson kids because they do not get the same allotted time for music,” he said. “It creates inequality.”
Karen Jesseph, who teaches music at Jefferson and McKinley elementary schools, said the situation has gotten worse in recent times.
Several years ago when the school in LaHarpe was still open, the division of labor was equal between the two music teachers. One would teach at Lincoln and LaHarpe while the other went to Jefferson and McKinley.
While Jesseph did not disagree with the decision to close LaHarpe’s school, it did create unintentional consequences.
Currently, USD 257 uses a four-day block scheduling system for its special teachers to determine on which days and times the instructors are available for specific classes. For example, If Monday is Day 1, the next Day 1 falls on Friday. The next week starts with Day 2.
This constant cycling of the “days” is designed to prevent a single class from being more affected by holidays. (See related graphic).
However, the four-day schedule also is complicated and confusing for teachers and students alike.
Marciano said it makes it difficult to schedule face-to-face meetings with teachers because they are constantly bouncing back and forth between schools.
“It’s maddening figuring out who’s here and when they’re here,” he said.
Lori Maxwell, principal at McKinley, said teachers adjust to the schedule over time, but agreed that communication was a problem.
“Email is the default means of communication for me,” she said. “In many situations I would prefer having a face-to-face conversation, and the schedules don’t allow time for that because everyone is always rushing to their next assignment.”
Currently, Jesseph’s students at Jefferson only get one 45-minute music class per week. This is less than students at other schools get, and it’s half the amount of time recommended in national standards.
“That’s frustrating for the kids, too,” she said. “We have to make kids as prepared as we can, and part of that is the things a new building would bring. I can’t think of a thing that would make (a new school) detrimental to the music students.”
Jesseph said that while the schedule creates problems, it was the best available for a district with separate elementary schools.
“Mr. Crusinbery and I sat down to try and create a new schedule this summer, but it’s just not possible with the current setup,” she said.
This also makes it difficult for teachers to meet with students. Often, the only time they have available is before or after school, which can conflict with students’ schedules, especially those riding buses.
Danielle Schooler has taught art at Lincoln and McKinley for three years and photography at the middle school for two. Adjusting to the chaotic schedule took some time, but is doable, she said.
One of her biggest issues stems from supplies. She must remember to bring supplies for her daily lessons, but because each school has different supplies available, it’s difficult to remember what needs to go where.
“Sometimes I have to change the lesson plan because of it,” she said.
BALANCING the work load between schools is especially a challenge for those who work with special needs children.
Bob Coleman, director of special education for ANW Special Education Cooperative, said school staffs never know which school will have more special education children each year, and figuring out the schedules for 10 ANW staffers in Iola is time consuming and challenging.
“Sometimes we have to move kids to another school because of the lack of room,” he said.
At Lincoln, one of the ANW classrooms is a remodeled shower room. At Jefferson, there are two classes in one area with a partition to divide them.
“You’re already talking about kids who are struggling,” he said. “To put them in an environment like that is very distracting. It impacts their ability to learn.”