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BOARD TOLD OF PROBLEMS AT MIDDLE SCHOOL

The Orchard Park School Board this week received some prodding from one of the people who helped engineer its change in direction last spring.

Donald Eppers, one of the leaders of the loosely organized Parents for Kids organization, addressed the board over the Orchard Park Middle School's ongoing construction and overcrowding problems.

"In the School Board elections, independent candidates were elected with the anticipation they would be able to work well with the administration to address the problems," Eppers told the board. ". . . We anticipated attempting to make the best of a bad situation. And what we found was a worse situation (this fall)."

Among Eppers' concerns was a "team" of students that is based out of homerooms and lockers in the school's basement, but has to travel to third-floor classes in the time allotted between classes. He also said there were too many "teachers on carts" -- with no room for a base -- and he quoted Middle School Principal Joan Thomas describing the school as looking like a "war zone."

Eppers said the solution "is not another Parent Teacher Organization meeting, not another committee of people to talk about it. We have professionals; they have talent. . . . It should be viewed as unacceptable and in absolute need of immediate remedial action."

The board itself conceded there have been problems at the start of the school year, but Board President M. Donald Pritchard, whose own children are in the middle school, said, "It is bad, but it is getting better."

Superintendent Charles L. Stoddart didn't dispute the "war zone" description, but said many of the short-term solutions -- such as staggered sessions -- "are more intolerable than what is already in place."

Stoddart said Wednesday "One of the complaints is these kids do not have time to get from their locker to their classes. . . . If that's the point, they ought to be given more time to do so.

"I'd rather have a kid miss 2 minutes of social studies but have a calm day than have a day not conducive to learning. If it's a special problem, then create a special solution."

He said some of the problem has resulted from solving the problem of large classroom numbers. The district added a full "team" of teachers -- one for each major subject area -- in an effort to reduce class sizes, cutting the average general class from around 32 to 26 or 27.

That created a need for more classroom utilization, and teachers sharing rooms and moving their materials on carts was one way to do it.

Stoddart also said five of the district's six buildings are in some stage of repair. At Tuesday's meeting, he said the district's contractors haven't been able to get materials as quickly as they'd like for the construction, which was OK'd in a June bond.

"We put in an order for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of lights," he said. "But they're not sitting around Western New York in a warehouse. They're going to be manufactured by somebody someplace and not be delivered on time, at least what we would consider being delivered on time."

On the other hand, he said Wednesday, while the halls may be dull and dark and there may be exposed wire in the classroom ceilings, he didn't think that had a direct connection to learning.

"One of our kids at the middle school told me it has that feeling like the Red Lobster or Wal-Mart," he said, referring to those commercial entities' exposed ceilings.

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