DSC_0321The Webster Parish School Board, with the help of faculty and the public, is beginning the task of looking at options to alleviate the issues that plague J.E. Harper Elementary.

In a special meeting at the school, board members began discussing options on how to best handle the logistics and the cost of creating a better environment for kindergarten and first grade students.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls listed several options central office staff and the board are considering. He says one option is to move them to the previous NWLA Technical College and work on renovations to Harper while students attend school at the alternate site.

Another option is to switch with E.S. Richardson Elementary and put the fourth and fifth graders at Harper and put the “little people,” as Dr. Rawls affectionately calls them, at Richardson.

“The issue to correct any deficiencies is very complex,” he says. “It’s going to involve massive renovations to this facility, which means the little children have to leave. Then it begs the question, where are you going to put them? There are many options on the table.”

Board member Frankie Mitchell says Harper was the premier school when it was built. School systems all over the country were touring Harper because the open air setting was the going thing during the 70s.

“It was THE building at the time, 20 or 30 years ago,” Mitchell said.

One parent of a Harper student says his daughter has trouble at Harper. He praised the teachers, saying they were doing the best within their abilities, but his daughter comes home every day complaining of the noise level and other issues, including bathroom issues.

“She can’t concentrate because of all the noise,” J.D. Cottle said. “She comes home hungry because she didn’t have time to eat. I’ve been up here for a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. It’s like herding cattle through a sales auction. These little ones take two bites and they’re up and gone.”

He went on to say money is not the issue; children’s education should be at the forefront.

Principal Janene Ashley says the bathroom facilities are a huge issue because so many students can’t get to the bathroom in time, many times having accidents. The reason for this is the lack of adequate restroom facilities, not to mention the facilities aren’t tailored to children so young.

The list of issues handed out to parents and the public was three pages long, and it was widely acknowledged that something needs to be done.

Board president Charles Strong says when the schools were consolidated and shuffled parish wide four years ago, it was hard to foresee that Harper would not work.

“Four years ago, we apparently thought this was the thing to do,” he said. “In that short span of time, we find ourselves back here tonight, and I would say with a general consensus, this was not the best thing to have done. We certainly don’t need to make a decision regarding this issue that won’t stand the test of time and prove to be a good long-term decision. We certainly don’t have the luxury of coming back and saying, ‘Well, why don’t we try this instead.’”

Harper Elementary houses roughly 500 students between kindergarten and first grade.