Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

TOP STORY > >Church site working for pupils, staff

By JOHN HOFHEIMER and NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writers

Like a jigsaw puzzle with too many pieces or may-be not enough, dozens of district and church hands on Tuesday pieced together a picture of school-as-usual for 750 displaced elementary school students from William Jefferson Clinton Elementary Magnet School.

Together the teachers unloaded eight rental trucks full of boxes, tables, supplies, filing cabinets and books to First Assembly of God Church in North Little Rock, where they will attend class until further notice.

Engineers have said the roof structures at Clinton and Crystal Hill Elementary schools were suspect and evacuated first Crystal Hill and a week later Clinton, while Baldwin and Schell Engineers of Little Rock assess the damage and determine whether the roofs must be replaced or can be repaired.

Meanwhile, Crystal Hill’s students started back to school in portable classrooms set up at Maumelle Middle School last week, and today, if all went according to schedule, Clinton should have started back in borrowed quarters at the First Assembly of God.

Bus students were to be picked up this morning at the usual time by their usual drivers and delivered to their usual teachers — but at the Assembly of God rather than at Clinton, according to Brad Montgomery, head of Pulaski County Special School District transportation department.

At the end of the school day, the process will be reversed.

“We have some tables too large that need to go back,” one teacher told principal Jackye Parker, who set up a temporary office in the lobby of one church building.

“There is some craziness. Moving always is somewhat stressful,” she said, asking to have those tables taken back to the elementary school.

WANTED TO HELP

“It’s going to be great,” said Youth Pastor Patrick Lander. “We realize we are part of the community and wanted to help. When they called on us we knew this was something we had to do.”

The church has helped out similarly in recent years after a school fire and a tornado.

Lander said they could accommodate the district “as long as it takes. Our people are very flexible. We’ve just been rearranging and making it happen.

“Our entire staff and several volunteers are helping them move in. There’ve been no major problems yet,” he said. Workers trooped up the halls in good humor with boxes and tables, usually coming back empty handed or with an empty hand-truck.

They have been working long hours — lots of overtime — for about 10 days now, first moving Crystal Hill classes, then the Clinton classes.

Teachers busily worked to make their borrowed classrooms as inviting and similar as they could.

“To be uprooted is tough, but we’ve been welcomed here with open arms,” Parker said.

NO TIMELINE

“We have no expected timeline,” she said. “We hope it’s very temporary.”

The move will last at least a few days while engineers, architects and district personnel determine what is needed to stabilize — or replace — the roof at Clinton. The school was built in 1994, and the wood roof and trusses were treated with a fire retardant that eventually contributed to the bowing, cracking and buckling of roof trusses, according to district spokesman Craig Douglass.

The church building has 38 classrooms, some of which will have double classes and two teachers in them. Also, on Wednesday evenings and on Sundays, there will be Sunday school classes in the rooms.

The district will bring in breakfast and lunch for the students.

“Our intent is to make it resemble (our school) as much as possible,” Parker said.

“It’s going well,” said April Jarvis, a fourth-grade teacher in her first year. “It’s been a wild year.”

Both parents and teachers are concerned that their youngsters — as young as kindergarten — could be disoriented by the change.

“The transition will not prevent us from teaching and being caretakers for these children,” Parker said. “This will be our home away from home.”

PARENTS MEETING

The spacious sanctuary at First Assembly of God was overflowing with school patrons who had come to get the lowdown on relocation of students to the church while the Clinton Elementary School building is inspected and possibly repaired.

Principal Parker exhorted parents to “think of this simply as an inconvenience. It is only temporary. We have a home to return to after repairs are made.”

A cadre of Pulaski County department heads was present to reassure parents and field questions about all aspects of the complex relocation maneuver.

Food services, morning and afternoon drop-off and pick-up, bus transportation, extended care, classroom locations, busing for walkers, postings on EDLINE, and the automated transfer of the school’s phone number to be answered at the church were a few of the details covered in a lengthy handout given to all who came in the door.

Newton and Janet McNew, whose youngest child, Anna, is a first-grader at Clinton and are themselves graduates of the district, weren’t too pleased with the proceedings.

They were among a significant number of parents who over the weekend received an automated phone message from the district telling them the meeting was Monday night, then never got a call back to correct the error.

“I have lived in Sherwood since 1966 and graduated from Sylvan Hills, and I have never seen such poor management of a building,” Janet McNew said. She wondered how it could be that highly educated folks in charge of decisions about school-building construction could make such errors in judgment.

RELOCATION NECESSARY?

As he was leaving the meeting, Joe Homan, whose son is a first-grader at Clinton, expressed skepticism that the relocation was necessary, in light of the fact that a licensed engineer said the building was safe.

“It’s being over-cautious,” he said. “And why didn’t the district use last Thursday and Friday when the teachers were out for the AEA conference, and the weekend, to get in the building, make an assessment? Maybe this is something that could have waited until next summer.”

Gregg Keys, the parent of a pre-K child, was impressed by what the district had pulled together in less than a week.

“I think this is amazing. I think they have thought of everything that could have been thought of. What amazes me is the short time – to put all this together and find a place is amazing.”