Teachers speak out on issues facing Harper Elementary

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Two teachers at J.E. Harper Elementary approached the Webster Parish School Board sharing their frustrations about the lack of accommodation for faculty and students alike regarding a school that was not built to handle approximately 500 kindergarten and first grade students.

The issue at hand is the lack of space, the noise factor and lack of facilities to accommodate the number of small children attending the school. Rachael Brown, a kindergarten teacher at the school and the parent of a student there, talked about the physical issues that face them every day.

“We love our children at Harper and our love for children and learning is why we are so passionate about the issues we have at Harper,” she said. “Regardless of how long we have been there, you don’t have to be there long to understand the magnitude of our problems.”

The other teacher, Beth Clark, reiterated many of the things Brown mentioned, and it was on that note that Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls asked for a special called meeting regarding options to fix the issues at Harper.

“It is a very complex issue, and it’s going to be very costly,” Rawls said. “I have spent over 100 hours; I have enough information that we’d be in here several hours going through it as options for you (the board) to look at. I want to make sure I have everything in front of you so you can see the numbers, the timeframes, and what it’s going to take to accommodate their needs.”

Board member Ronnie Rhymes visited the school Monday, and he says the school’s issues need to be addressed quickly.

“I was shocked by what I saw,” he said. “I mean, there were almost 500 kids on the top floor of Harper and you’ve got restrooms – there’s only two toilets in each restroom – in the four corners. One restroom only has one toilet in it and that’s for special needs students. I’ve been in elementary school (as a faculty member/principal) all my life, and when you line up kindergarten and first grade kids, it’s going to take a classroom 15 or 20 minutes to use the bathroom because they’re little kids.”

He also mentioned the noise level, which remains a concern for many of the faculty members. In an earlier interview, Rawls said a committee has been exploring options to figure out the best way to move forward in addressing Harper’s needs. The logistics alone of either moving students off site during construction or constructing around class time can be costly, he says.

The special meeting has been set for 6 p.m., Monday, March 16, at Harper Elementary School.

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