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NINE NEW TEACHERS DROP MIDDLE SCHOOL CLASS SIZES

Orchard Park Middle School Principal Joan Thomas is happy about the nine new teachers at her school this fall.

But now, she said at Tuesday night's Orchard Park School Board meeting, the district needs to find a better way to fit all of the teachers into the school.

The hirings helped drop average class sizes in the building from 28 for sixth- and eight-graders and 27 for seventh-graders to 25 for sixth-graders and 24 for seventh- and eighth-graders. But now the students and teachers must deal with more congestion than ever in the halls.

Last year, "the board said to us, 'Can you do this, without adding onto the facility or moving outside of your facility?' And we said,'Yes, we can,' " Thomas said of the additions.

"However, with every situation, but there's always a cost. . . . We believe right now we have a situation we can tolerate this year, but we're not sure we can move into 2000-2001 in the situation we're in at the moment."

Among the problems Thomas pointed out were:

Loss of as much as 25 percent of instructional room to travel and set-up.

Loss of space for activities such as parent conferences and review sessions.

Loss of the building's "large group meeting room" for classrooms.

Loss of space for activities such as Odyssey of the Mind, musical rehearsals, extracurricular activities and community functions.

Loss of work space and work time for teachers sharing rooms. The number of teachers "on carts" has increased from four to 28, meaning teachers can't use their off time to work in what had been their own rooms.

Thomas offered the board a list of potential solutions ranging from the small -- reconfiguring hallway traffic -- to as large as renting portable classrooms or dividing the school into two sessions (900 students going 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., while 400 go from 1-7 p.m.).

"Our point tonight was to make sure you were aware of our situation, and to make sure next year will be different," she said.

Trustee Vicki Jefferis said her facilities feasibility committee would be handling short-term as well as long-term issues, so it will be addressing the problems.

Donald Eppers, one of the leaders of the loosely organized Parents for Kids organization that played a major role in last spring's School Board and budget elections, sharply criticized the board at its Sept. 14 meeting over problems at the middle school. He left Tuesday's meeting happier.

"I'm very optimistic that the School Board is going to address these problems . . . quickly and effectively," Eppers said after hearing Thomas.

The middle school principal will be facing this year's crowding issues without one of her lieutenants, Assistant Principal Gordon Kerr. Kerr was named principal Tuesday night of Orchard Park's Eggert Elementary School, replacing Peter Walders. Walders announced his retirement in July.

Kerr is starting his third year in the district, following stints as band director in Cheektowaga and Williamsville. Kerr, 33, is a graduate of Houghton College, with a master's degree from the University at Buffalo and his administrative degree from UB and Buffalo State.

Kerr took some kidding from the board about a "hockey shirt" his son, Josh, had been promised if he got the job, but said later it was really a football jersey -- a Green Bay Packer with quarterback Brett Favre's name and number on it.

"I'm looking forward to being at Eggert. I've had a wonderful experience at the middle school," he said.

Kerr will make $75,000 a year.

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