So many worthy children; such limited space

Remember the old woman who lived in a shoe? The one with so darn many kids she didn’t know what to do? The “Old Woman in the Shoe” nursery rhyme is over 200 years old yet the issues of overcrowding in our schools is very current. Case in point: this school year, Bismarck Public Schools has 51 too-large classes. In other words, in 51 classrooms across the district, the student-to-teacher ratio exceeds the district’s standard.  Those 51 classes should be divided into 102 classes – but there are no classrooms available. BPS enrollment is growing (nearly 11,000!) while our buildings grow older and more crowded. BPS saw the
largest incoming kindergarten class ever this year. And Burleigh County
birthrates tell us that was no fluke and should continue into the future. The
pressure for space will increase.

While we have accommodated those large classes with extra help, such as with teacher assistants, many of whom hold a teaching license, we know that super large classes are just not how we wish to do business. But like the old woman who lived in a shoe, our enrollment numbers exceed our capacity. There simply is not enough instructional space for the increasing number of students that BPS is experiencing.

Portable classrooms have seemed like a good short term answer to overcrowding. Two facts took my breath away: 1) did you know that the total square footage of “temporary” portable classrooms in BPS is greater than the total square footage of Solheim Elementary? And, 2) many of our temporary classrooms are a quarter century old?  In other words, a person could attend school in a portable, grow up, graduate, have babies, and send them back to the same portable classroom. Students can be housed in portables but the core space of gyms, cafeterias, libraries, and computer labs are not enlarged to handle the extra students.

I have thought about this overcrowding issue for many weeks. As I was baking bread on Sunday from a recipe in the Tribune (“bread that even you can bake), I paused to think back upon “the good old days”. For my grandmother, baking bread was no novelty, no past time. She baked it to feed her family (and given the stories I have heard about my dad and his brothers, she may have “whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed” from time to
time). Grandma Lempi did not have a microwave, a baking stone, an electric oven, or a mixer with a dough hook. She had herself, a bowl, and a wood stove. And for the time in which she lived, that was enough.

People often state “if it was good enough for me then, it is good enough for these kids now”. I would argue differently. In my Grandma’s era, students could graduate or not, and still be gainfully employed, make enough money to raise a family, and have enough free time and conviction to help build communities. Today, that is simply not true. There are few jobs that offer a living wage for those who drop out of school. We wish all our students
as adults to be employed well enough to be “givers” rather than “takers” in terms of raising a family and helping build a community. Thus, the education system for today has to be different by design from the one used back “in the good old days” when drop outs were expected.

As Bismarck grows, there is talk of a third high school and more elementary buildings. The School Board has decided it is time to develop a Master Facilities Plan. The goals are to plan for short term space as well as plan for the next five years, and project into the next ten years. This blog invites you to share your voice in the Plan.

Bismarck Public Schools honors the ideal that these are the community’s schools. They are not the Board’s schools, not the superintendent’s schools, not the staffs’ schools, not even the students’ schools. Collectively, they are our schools, belonging to all. Thus, all our voices matter.

A number of external community meetings will be conducted. Specifics on these meetings can be found on our web page, .Please review this meeting schedule and let us know if you will participate.
The link includes instructions on how to get involved.

Sometimes organizations give lip service to public input. Let me be clear; that’s not the case here:  BPS School Board sincerely seeks public input- from the external public as well as the internal public. The meetings around this Facility Master Plan will offer the chance to define what 21st Century school buildings should have and a chance to compare what BPS currently has and a chance to offer input about what the future of BPS buildings should hold.

Make no mistake about three things: 1) “democracy is not a spectator sport”; it is participatory; 2) as much as each of us deserves to be heard, having our say is not the same thing as getting our way; the goal is to find a collective vision; and 3) the world really and truly is run by those who show up. Please use this as your personal invitation to participate.

This old woman would be pleased to see you there and learn your perspective. (And while there will be no broth and bread served at the meetings, neither will anyone be
whipped soundly and sent to bed!)

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