News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 22, 2012

READERS’ FORUM: Aug. 22, 2012


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Overcrowding an Otter Creek issue

While the teachers and staff at Otter Creek Middle School did their best to provide a happy, welcoming first day of school for new and returning students, it proved to be quite a challenge as they faced extremely overcrowded conditions.

Last week, Otter Creek welcomed approximately 300 new students and teachers from the former Chauncey Rose Middle School. This represents an almost 40 percent increase from the previous year’s enrollment. Some classrooms currently have more than 42 students in them. Students are crowded around tables and even share the teacher’s desk because there is not adequate space for student desks. According to the formula set by the Indiana State Department of Homeland Security for fire safety, these high enrollments exceed maximum occupancy levels and pose possible code violations.

Moreover, there are not enough lockers for the sixth-graders in their own hallway, so many of them must walk through a very crowded hallway of older students to collect their books. To top it off, the building’s worn-out air-conditioning system was not working properly last week, adding to the discomfort of many people in the building.

To be very clear, the incredibly dedicated staff at Otter Creek did everything possible to make sure the children felt welcomed and secure. It was a top priority, and has been so since last school year. No, this inexcusable classroom situation falls squarely on Superintendent Tanoos and the school board, who failed to implement a plan for the smooth transition of Chauncey Rose students to their new school homes.

Mr. Tanoos and the school board had nearly a year and a half to come up with such a plan and to consider a number of possibilities that would have ensured a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students and staff at Otter Creek. But instead, our educational leaders sat and waited. And now the students lose.

With a 40 percent increase in enrollments at Otter Creek, where are the additional classrooms and teachers? Temporary classrooms could have been placed on school grounds until a more permanent solution to the physical space constraint was reached. But is Otter Creek’s building even in the school corporation’s plans for upgrade and expansion?

Building improvements would obviously involve a significant commitment of funds; as the school board voted to close Chauncey Rose in order to avoid costly building upgrades, surely they recognized that such action might require a significant investment in physical plant improvement elsewhere.

Another option Mr. Tanoos and the school board could have considered was redistricting — a difficult subject to be sure, but one that would have evened out the enrollment discrepancies between Sarah Scott, Woodrow Wilson and Otter Creek. Would such classroom overcrowding be tolerated at Honey Creek school? Would any of the school board members want their children or grandchildren to be in, say, a reading class of 44 students?

My children graduated from Otter Creek after three happy, successful years there. My children flourished at that school in large part because of the secure and supportive atmosphere the teachers and staff provided. I am confident the teachers and staff will continue to do their best to provide the same learning environment my children had. It’s just too bad that our educational leaders downtown won’t do the same.

— Dorothy Chambers

Terre Haute