The Year of the School: A Madera Tribune editorial project
What MUSD is doing right
Solving the classroom crisis as student counts expand
How is Madera Unified going to continue to house its ever-growing student population? Where will the children go when their numbers outstrip the district’s ability to house them? To ask these questions is to lift the veil on MUSD’s most pressing problem — What is Madera Unified doing to meet its imminent classroom crisis? In the area of school facilities, what is Madera Unified doing right? The problem
There can be no doubt, the district is facing a severe shortage of classroom space. Ten of Madera’s 18 elementary schools were constructed in the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s. They were built to house from 500 to 600 students, not the 700 to 800 they now accommodate.
With school enrollments increasing across the district in the 1960s, all attempts to solve the problem with a school bond measure failed. The district then turned to temporary housing — portables — to meet the challenge.
As a result, 40 percent of Madera Unified’s elementary classrooms are portables. That amounts to over 225 portable classrooms on its 18 elementary school campuses, and most of them are over 25 years old and are experiencing significant deterioration.
The move to portables became more palatable as a solution to the classroom crisis when the district abandoned year-round schools with their multiple tracks.
Under the year-round school schedules, one fourth of the district’s elementary classes were always off track, which meant each school had to provide classrooms for only three-fourths of its students in any given month.
With the elimination of year-round schools, each campus had to suddenly accommodate 100 percent of its student population, rather than 75 percent. It was as if the district’s student population increased by 25 percent overnight.
It addition, the district transitioned from half-day kindergarten to all-day kindergarten, creating the need for even more classrooms. Thus the move to acquire more portables.
As more and more students were crammed onto each campus during the same day, their school experience outside the classroom was impacted also.
Parking and student drop off/pick up became more difficult, because most of the student body was transported to school in motor vehicles, unlike the students a generation earlier, who walked to school or rode their bikes.
Overpopulation means that cafeterias are undersized, making longer lunch periods necessary. In some cases, younger students are eating lunch at 10:30 in the morning. There are not enough restrooms to handle the increased numbers of students, and library space is lacking on most campuses.
Over the past 50 years, each school provides more student centered services. Speech therapists, counselors, psychologists, and academic intervention specialists are now employed on school campuses, and they have to have offices, which reduces the space for students. The solution
Madera Unified recognizes that the only way to address overcrowding is to construct new facilities. With this in mind, for the past five years, the district has been setting aside $10 million a year to complete the new high school. This will reduce overcrowding at Madera High School and Madera South High School, which now has almost 3,300 students.
The construction of Virginia Lee Rose Elementary has alleviated overcrowding at Millview, Sierra Vista, Chavez, and Pershing Schools.
Having taken these steps, the district is now planning something called a Concurrent Enrollment Middle School, which will not only provide a 21st century learning experience for students but will reduce the numbers at the three middle schools by 600.
The high tech middle school campus will receive 200 students from each traditional middle school in the mornings. At noon these students will return to their home schools and a new group of 600 students will go to the innovative middle school in the p.m.
Further, the district is planning for the construction of two new elementary schools. One of these schools would relieve overcrowding at John Adams, Lincoln, and Howard Schools. The second school would draw from various other sites, reducing enrollment and allowing for modernization work at the older sites.
Plans for the concurrent enrollment middle school and the two elementary schools are contingent upon passage of Measure M in the Nov. 6 election.
So what is Madera Unified doing right in dealing with overcrowding on its campuses, a critical situation brought on local schools through no fault of their own?
It is facing the issue squarely, recognizing that it needs the help of the entire school community to effect a solution. The district has demonstrated the need for more classrooms, and it has committed itself to doing its part by setting aside money from its budget to help build the needed schools.
With its school board working harmoniously and its academic performance on the rise, Madera Unified is now looking forward to providing its students with reasonably populated schools.