Letter - Wa-Hi science facilities leave students unprepared

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As an English teacher at Walla Walla High School, whose job is to create educational opportunities for students, I urge your support of the school bond in April to build a new science building. This is a significant educational opportunity for our students.

This project also offers a chance to build consensus within the community. Surveys show solid public support for fixing Wa-Hi in stages, and a reluctance to paying for multiple bonds. Fortunately, one bond was recently retired, which can be replaced by this new science building bond. The Edison bond will be retired in a few years, which can open the door for further projects.

It is true that Wa-Hi has many needs that are not addressed by this bond. In my own classroom in the Academic Building, I would love more computer access, newer desks, and more room to roam among 32 students. I would also love to teach students in May, June and September who are not aggressively fanning themselves to cope with soaring classroom temperatures. Wa-Hi also has significant needs for upgrades in its drama, music and fitness facilities.

None of these deficiencies, though, matches the urgency of our science classrooms.

Those rooms may have been fine 50 years ago, but much has changed in science since 1963. We are now graduating students, who, despite the best efforts of a terrific science staff, are unprepared to compete with students who come from 21st century science programs.

Some lab experiences for AP science courses are simply not doable without proper ventilation. Lab equipment is sometimes cleaned in the lavatories for lack of classroom sinks. And there is almost no storage. I have spoken with science professors at Whitman College who are stunned when they see our limitations.

The strength of Wa-Hi lies in its tremendous programs, supportive families, dedicated staff, and strong traditions. What it lacks are the facilities to make further growth possible.

Across the campus, the structural limitations create a steady headwind against progress. For those who wish we could do more now, I don’t disagree. But the reality is we tried that in 2013 and failed to reach 60 percent support.

This will be a great step in the right direction and one which everyone should be able to support.

As a fellow community member and a teacher of your children, I urge you to vote “yes” for this bond in April.

Keith Swanson

Walla Walla

Comments

dereksarley 8 months, 2 weeks ago

This is extremely well said. The tone is exactly what we'd all like to hear from our own children's teachers -- an awareness of the hurdles they're facing in the classroom, but the professional dedication to try to accommodate and work past them as much as possible.

The question is why our community would ever be willing to accept imposing those hurdles in the first place? We know how important education is for the future of Walla Walla, so why are we making our teachers' jobs this much harder?

Now that the School Board has taken a clear direction with this new science lab building, we are starting to get all the details about what the science teachers are dealing with on a daily basis. We know that the current Wa-Hi science building doesn't have enough labs or the right equipment, so chemistry teachers can't do all the labs called for in the AP curriculum. We also know there is a biology teacher working in a room without even a sink, so her students have to go down to the restrooms when they need to wash out their equipment.

Even the rooms that do have labs were designed to accommodate 12 students each, back when high school graduation requirements mandated a single year of science. With classes of 30 and a third-year science requirement now working its way through the legislature, the math is clear. Pass the bond.

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dereksarley 8 months, 2 weeks ago

I also meant to include this link in my first comment and forgot: http://www.wwps.org/wahi-bond-2014

There have been lots of questions about this project raised on this site. That page does a great job answering them. It's also continuing to be updated by the district, including with a three-page memo by the architects discussing the project and their cost estimates: http://www.wwps.org/images/atoz/wahibond2014/Wa-Hi_Science_Cost%20Memo_140310.pdf

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fatherof5 8 months, 2 weeks ago

I've seen questions raised about the $10.2 million cost of this building. It is worth noting that the district, which wants this bond to pass, has every interest in keeping the costs down. They have shopped around and asked the tough questions, too. As I have heard it described, this is not the "Cadillac version," but it isn't a Pinto either.

We wouldn't want a Pinto version, would we? We need something that will suffice for decades to come, right?.

There is no need, though, to speculate about the costs. Here is a link to a PDF on the district website that details them. The estimate is $268 per square foot, plus the various development and financing costs which are unavoidable.

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fatherof5 8 months, 2 weeks ago

I think it is also notable that the 2013 bond would have renovated the current science building for $15 million. Yes, the current building has more square footage, but the plan for this new building addresses the main issue of inadequate science rooms for 2/3 of the original cost.

The district is doing its best to juggle costs with doing what is best for kids....and to balance the desires of the 53% who voted "yes" for the $48 million bond with those who voted "no." It's not easy, but I think they are doing a great job.

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