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Tour: High School, PAC, and Middle School

September 10, 2010

The budget season begins each year with tours of the facilities.  Generally, the tours showcase enhancements and deficiencies.  This year was different.  Enhancements were small and deficiencies were few.  This year, it seems, the tour was designed to convince ME there was a need for a new school.We were in and out of the high school stopping to look at the locker rooms and the new robotics lab — which appeared little more than another room full of computers.  We entered the PAC through the back where we were shown the deteriorating exterior siding (only eight years old) and told it needed to be replaced.  Mr. D met us in the foyer.  He answered a few questions and we were off to the middle school.

Mr. Hogan met us at the front door.   He regaled us with tales of improvements from teaching areas to office areas to the library, but also told us the building was not suitable for learning.

As we passed down halls decorated with murals, school board and budget committee members asked about HVAC deficiencies, windowless rooms, and lunching in shifts.  Mr. Hogan said things actually worked well despite these problems, but was  willing to speculate about what could be with a new school.  There was a lot of hand wringing and many heads were bowed.    

Then we talked about the electrical inadequacies.  Turns out that on a couple days that were over 100 (apparently in the buildings because the almanac does not agree), the school had to be cooled one half at a time.  Reportedly, the kids were ‘wiped out’ to the extent that learning was impaired and the principal was actually forced to  resuscitate one kid with a popsicle (as opposed to engaging one of the districts twelve nurses).  At the high school, the principal was forced to treat many kids in the way.  No doubt there are warm days, but we could buy a real nice central air system for $100,000,000.  And the fact is that it was the power that was lacking and, new school or no new school, the PAC should not be tapping off the middle school — that was another shortcut from the last building bond.

Then there was much talk about how how crowded the halls were.  I asked Mr. Hogan if anyone had considered keeping each team in a suite of rooms and having the teachers move between classes.  He said that that would be a logistical nightmare.  Of course, the new school architecture is based on a ‘pod’ model that does just that.

Finally, we rallied in the Health room.  This is an old room arranged around a pair of science lab pedestals.  It’s small and one part of the room is filled with cabinets.  Here we were told of studies that showed that kids benefitted from natural light and fresh air…according to studies.  When the anecdotes tapered off, I reminded everyone that Mr. La Salle  said he did not expect the new school construction/renovation to positively impact middle schoolers (at the SECRET, untelevised/unrecorded ‘workshop’ in June).  La Salle explained that the middle school was already very good and had been named middle school of the year.  He said that this was due to curriculum improvements.  Mr. Hogan agreed with this.  At this point, Mrs. Withee (school board, Plaistow) interrupted me abruptly and ended the tour.

What I noticed during the tour was that there was a theme to the questions being asked.  I also noticed that the answers came out of Mr. Hogan’s mouth very quickly.  I suspect that the questions and answers were scripted.  This is probably why Mrs. Withee was so upset when I challenged their talking points — I don’t think the props were prepared to defend their positions.  It’s not the first time the superintendent has scripted a public event.  He famously did this during the deliberative session and the school board chair read a ‘prepared response’ earlier this month regarding the superintendent’s elimination of finals and midtems at the high school.

  • I noticed only ONE single computer that was not powered on during the tour (Mr. Hogan, turning off computers when not in use saves electricity and reduces heat)
  • The closet door to the electical room we visited had signs warning of electrical danger but was not locked
  • Motion detectors had been moved away from where they could be tripped from the outside of a locked door
  • Mr. D stressed the importance of the PAC to the HS kids noting that they represent half of the occupancy during the school day and that music, language arts, and theater were all taught in the PAC during the school day — it sounds like TRSD’s best teacher is not happy about depriving the high schoolers of use of PAC during the school day
  • The SAU’s business manager told me that he was not aware if the HS was a school in need of improvement — not his job

Tour of Danville and Sandown schools is next Tuesday and begins at the Danville school at 6:00pm.

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