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Wilson parents raise concerns about space

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At a recent Rockville Centre Board of Education meeting, a number of parents expressed their concerns about overcrowded classrooms at Wilson Elementary School, saying that the lack of space has been a continual issue for the past three to four years. The board heard comments from a number of parents, who cited concerns with rising enrollment, the conversion of the art room into a classroom, and the fact that many children work at tables in the hallways.

“I don’t want to call it overcrowding, but certainly there’s been a growth in population at Wilson,” Superintendent Dr. William Johnson said. “I think it would be a viable option to consider how we deal with it during the budget season.”

Trustee John O’Shea asked Johnson whether the space concerns could actually be addressed with next year’s budget.

“Bringing it up at a budget time won’t really help anything,” O’Shea said. “It really has to go to a bond process…it’s not something we can accomplish with a budget dollar, it needs to be a bond dollar.”

“In all likelihood, yes,” Johnson replied. “But part of the discussion that we have to have needs to focus on all the different variables that contribute to the sense of overcrowding that goes on in the building.”

“We can’t wait for a bond,” one mother said. “We don’t have three to five years.”

Johnson he is aware of the parental concerns, as they have been ongoing for the past several years.

“I think we can look at trends and where we can expect to be in another couple of years,” Johnson said. “We can study it more carefully and be better prepared with enrollment trends at the next meeting.”

He added that, at this point, he expects next year’s kindergarten to be three sections.

Another parent, who said one of her daughters has a severe nut allergy and celiac disease, finds it “disconcerting” that she’s eating where she sits and works all day. She also said that, with the lockdown drills, working in the hallways is not safe, and she said, having tables and chairs in the hallways could also be a fire code violation.

“We feel also that the portables are antiquated, they’re not safe, and children shouldn’t have to get their coats on when they head out to other classes,” she said. “We just feel the physical learning environment needs to be looked at more closely. We’re looking for the quickest possible solution.”

Johnson said that tables are used in hallways in many district buildings for learning.

“It’s an option we feel is a comfortable one when we want to regroup kids and provide them with options that may not be available in the classroom,” Johnson said.

Addressing the concern about eating in the classroom, Johnson said that a former principal made the decision, per the request of the Wilson community, to have lunch in the classrooms “because they didn’t want to double up on lunch.” This, he said, allows gym classes to run continuously from the beginning to end of school.

“Clearly things have changed,” Johnson said, “and clearly it’s not the same value system that’s driving part of your conversation, so it may be time for us to reconsider that and take a look at it again.”

Board President Tara Hackett said the board plans on doing a mid-year walk-through again this year.

“We are looking to see it in action, not just empty in August, because it gives us such a different view,” Hackett said.

Parents of Covert Elementary students also expressed concerns about overcrowding and requested the board looking into it during walk-throughs as well.

“Wilson parents have been hear for four straight years,” said another parent. “Have there been any discussions about this project moving forward?” Referring to the questions about it being a bond or budget issue, she said, “I feel like those things should have already been discussed and that we should be further along in the process.”

With the search for a new superintendent happening, Hackett said it makes it more difficult to do a bond now.

“If we’re going to put up a bond, we have to put up a strong bond so that it’s successful,” said Hackett. “The conversation is definitely ongoing, but I don’t think we’re ready to put up a bond at this exact time.”