Harper Elementary woes to be addressed

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Some information and numbers will be delivered at February’s school board meeting in the midst of a feasibility study to correct several issues at J.E. Harper Elementary School.

Webster Parish Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls told board members in Monday’s meeting some preliminary information will be given to them on how to alleviate concerns about an open air classroom setting, among other issues. His remarks came on the heels of approval for reimbursement to the school for the adjustment of new partitions to block off classrooms.

Harper Principal Janene Ashley said recently the company the partitions were purchased from came to the school and moved some of the partitions to better suit some of the classroom needs, and that’s why the school is being reimbursed.

She said some of the concerns they had included noise reduction, which in turn would help decrease distraction from daily lessons.

“Walls and a door would be optimal regarding noise reduction,” she said in an earlier interview, saying the partitions installed do help. “With us having younger children, we have seen some things that need to be adjusted and we’ve addressed them with the staff at Central Office, and they’ve formed a feasibility study to see how they can fix the issues.”

Since consolidation in 2010, Harper Elementary has become home to kindergarten and first grade students in the Minden area, and with an open air classroom setting, this has presented a Pandora’s Box of issues.

Rawls said issues arose with stairs, bathrooms not suited to meet the needs of smaller children, the “open air classroom,” technology issues and space. Before consolidation, there might be as few as six or seven kindergartners at one school, and with three schools worth combined, there are now at least 500 kids in one school between the two grades.

The school was built in the early 1970s according to board member Ronnie Broughton, was built based on the Montessori technique.

Rawls said it is nothing more than an open classroom setting.

“Montessori is nothing more than having children in a room all together engaging in activities individually created for them doing what they want to do and how they want to do it,” he said. “It was a disaster. It was total chaos.”

Broughton said at the time the school was constructed it was intended for higher grade levels.

In the past several months, the feasibility study has been conducted by Central Office staff, parents, teachers, architects and even the state fire marshal’s office.

Harper is a split-level school with classrooms and the front office on the ground level floor and classrooms and the cafeteria stair-stepped below it. There are four classrooms on the bottom floor and the rest are housed on the ground level. Each day, Rawls said, these tiny children must climb or descend stairs.

Parking and car/bus lineup is another nightmare. Even though a turning lane in front of the school is there, and a turning lane into the school is there, parents still block traffic on Germantown Road to pick up or drop off their children.

All the while, faculty and staff are trying to make sure little ones get on the correct busses to go home in the afternoon. A system has been set up that works fairly well; however, it’s still very crowded in the mornings and afternoon.

Some months ago, a meeting was conducted at Harper to hear concerns from parents, faculty and staff and what could be done to address those issues and more. Even though the feasibility study is well underway, it is still too soon to say when anything will be done or any decisions made, although Rawls said it would have to be soon.

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