“Boones Creek Middle School definitely has more needs than we do. But we do have a lot of issues in this building with storage, ventilation, roof leaks, not to mention open classrooms. It isn’t the most conducive environment for learning.”
Boones Creek Elementary Principal
By COLLIN BROOKS
Boones Creek Elementary School principal Kelly Harrell isn’t unrealistic. She knows that the biggest catalyst for a new school comes from the troubles at Boones Creek Middle School. But she is also truthful when she shares her school’s problems.
“Boones Creek Middle School definitely has more needs than we do,” Harrell told the Herald and Tribune early last week. “But we do have a lot of issues in this building with storage, ventilation, roof leaks, not to mention open classrooms. It isn’t the most conducive environment for learning.”
The elementary school was built in 1971, at the same time as Jonesborough Elementary School, when open-style schools with no walls dividing the classrooms were thought to be the trend of the future. However, the open-air classrooms never took into account rambunctious elementary students who often do their best learning when they are loud and moving.
A LOOK AT THE LEAKS INSIDE OF BOONES CREEK ELEMENTARY
The two high schools were also built at the same time, but it was evident early on that the open concept wasn’t conducive to high schoolers and walls were soon placed inside Daniel Boone and David Crockett.
The open spaces did serve a purpose during the 1980s and 1990s, when the elementary schools saw a swell in their populations, according to Director of Schools Ron Dykes. The Boones Creek and Jonesborough schools were built to accommodate between 400 and 500 students, he explained.
“There was a time, because of the open space, that you could create classrooms in about any configuration that you wanted,” Dykes said. “So just moving the bookshelves allowed us to get more children into those buildings, because we didn’t have anywhere to put them.”
Currently, Boones Creek Elementary is still close to capacity with 440 children. However, it is a far cry from the swell it suffered in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
The classrooms at Boones Creek Elementary houses two open-area units on each side of the school, each housing 10 classrooms.
There are two round parts on either side of the school and second and fourth grade are on one side, with third grade, art and Headstart classes are on the other.
Each of the classrooms are divided by cubicle walls which are about 6 feet tall. Those cubicle walls do little to keep the noise out, which can make it difficult for the kids to learn, according to Harrell.
Kindergarten and first-grade students are housed in the more traditional classrooms that were built in 1982, which allows them to be a little more lively in class, but when they get to second grade, they have to adjust to the new open environment.
“Second grade is very tough because they have trouble keeping their noise level down, but it’s also tough because they have a really tough time concentrating those first few months of school, because they might be listening to what the teacher next door to them is teaching or they might be listening to what the teacher in the classroom behind them is teaching. So it takes them some time and some different strategies by their teacher to help them focus on just that teacher.”
Adding permanent walls to those classrooms, which is the proposed solution at Jonesborough Elementary if a new school cannot be built, will cost about $2 million. Those classrooms will also need exits created to the outside, as each “individual classroom” as it now sits does not have adequate egress capabilities.
But that is the least of the the worries at the school, Harrell says the main concern is that whenever it rains for an extended amount of time, leaks begin to form in the elementary school roof. That means that Harrell and her staff keep a box of ceiling tiles on hand in order to replace any tiles that have been water logged.
Another issue that was brought up during the tour by Harrell is that in the bathrooms that are in the inner circle don’t have any ventilation, so they contain a musky smell that can’t be defeated by the custodial crew.
The school also does not have a place that all of the student body to gather at one time.
“If we have any visitors or any speakers that come in to meet with our student body, we have to do it in two section, so they always get separate presentations,” Harrell said. “There is no where in our building where we can get all of our student body together to hear a presenter or to hear me speak with them.”
Other issues include that are addressed in a deficiencies document released by the Washington County Board of Education is the needed updates to the HVAC system in the school. The documents also mentions that the library is built into one of the open spaces inside of the circle, which sees a lot of foot traffic throughout the day. The list continues to say that “locker space is inadequate” along with “storage not being adequate”. In order to have more space, Harrell showed the boiler room where janitors store their material. A box made out of red tape on the floor outlines the places that things can be placed once you step into the room.
Another issue that was highlighted by Harrell is that there is a traffic issue whenever school is let out during the day, when the school has to make room for the up to 200-250 car riders. That causes the main road in front of the school to be blocked because the overflow bleeds out past the school. Harrell says that they have tried to handle the situation, but that means there is only one way in and one way out through the front, which turns the normal two lanes in and out into four lanes of pick up until about 3:45 p.m.
Teachers park in the back lot and are unable to leave until car line is over. It isn’t possible to add an entrance or exit anywhere else, as the three side of the school are surrounded by a hotel, highway and homes.
But when it boils down to it, the most blaring issue returns to the open classrooms. While the kids have learned to adjust to it, Harrell wonders how well the students might do if they could be in a traditional classroom.
“Our test scores are really good,” Harrell said. “But we still have a lot of improvement to make and I just wonder how much more could we grow these students if they had environments that are more conducive to learning.”