BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A glimpse at the past six decades through the eyes of a group of current and former Fort Madison School teachers gives an insider’s look at the school district’s current elementary school status.
Former teachers Angie Sodey, Dawn Schnicker, Mary Beth Walker, Sally Denning, Dana Rheinschmidt, and Kate Lamb, and current Lincoln Elementary teacher Wendy Bailey sat down to discuss the imminent need for a new PreK to 3 facility in Fort Madison.
These teachers represent close to two centuries of combined elementary instruction and said they are very concerned with the current status of the district’s Lincoln and Richardson elementary schools.
Issues such as technology, safety, learning culture, environmental distractions, and others prompted the ladies to get behind the effort to build the new $27 million school on the current middle school campus at Bluff Road and 48th Street. The school is proposed to sit east of the current middle school. The referendum will also include two IHSAA and IGHSAU baseball and softball fields. School Board President Timm Lamb said the fields were part of the intial public hearing held to discuss the possibility of buildng the new school.
The referendum vote is set for June 27 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. with four polling locations at the Fort Madison Public Library, Roling Hall in Fort Madison, Grace Bible Church in Wever, and the West Point Public Library. Anyone 18 and over who resides within the district is eligible to vote in the election.
“These schools were state of the art, back in the the 50s and maybe even before that,” said retired teacher Sally Denning. “They just aren’t fit anymore to teach these children. They aren’t fit to teach these kids if this were the 70s.”
Schnicker said during the hot days of the school year there are so many distractions that learning is constantly interrupted.
“There are times when we’d have five to seven box fans running. Think about that, you’ve got all that noise, drop cords all over the place and windows open with all the outdoor noise coming in. It’s extremely difficult to teach in those environments with all those distractions.
Lamb, another retired instructor said that she hears people say, ‘It was good enough for me and my kids – it’s good enough for this generation.’
“What I keep coming back with is, ‘Would you want to be doctored they way they doctored 20 years ago,” Lamb said. “I mean, things change but we aren’t changing and that leaves these children behind.”
Bailey referred to the technology needs that have long suffered in the district saying that, even in the days of overhead projectors, the schools were behind. She said the school designs weren’t conducive to even sharing the technology, not to mention having the money to afford it.
“In most cases we had to share those and you had to keep them on one floor because you couldn’t carry them up and down the stairs. And even then technology was chalkboards and rows of desks and that’s not the way children are being taught now,” she said.
Schnicker said even in the 70s the buildings weren’t sufficient to support technology of that time, specifically overhead projectors.
“To see those screens you had to turn off the lights, and that would turn off the ceiling fans and it would just be awful in there. Then you’d have the fans going again and you couldn’t hear. We need to address that heat issue for these kids so they can learn unencumbered.”
Sodey said one of the worst experiences of her teaching career was when she was helping a student with a paper and sweat dripped off her onto the student’s paper.
“I was mortified,” Sodey said. “That was one of my most embarassing moments teaching and we have to get those kinds of distractions out of the process.”
Superintendent Erin Slater showed a picture of a child laying their head on a desk, exhausted from heat on a day that school had to be dismissed. Slater, who’s been giving presentations at local groups, service clubs, governmental agencies, etc., said due to busing issues, when she has to dismiss school for excessive heat, she has to do it for all the district.
“Even the schools that have HVAC have to be dismissed because of busing. So the distraction isn’t just at the elementary level, it affects each and every one of our students.”
The teachers also indicated some concern that the misinformation is being spread about the tax impact of the building.
“There are still a lot of people out there that are misinformed and we’ve had many many meetings to provide them with the correct information,” said Walker.
“I think it’s just misinformation and I don’t think they bother to find the truth,” Denning said. “I was at a baseball game in West Point and someone told me this was the fourth time we were trying to get a bond passed. It’s the second time.”
Sodey said people need to see what impact the new middle school has had on teaching, and students’ mindsets in general.
“If those people would only bother to see what we have at the middle school, it’s a wonderful facility, and what those children are able to do in that middle school is amazing. I have taught at a lot of the different schools. I did go back to the middle school at the older place and I spent some time working with the kids and observed the behavior and I was very concerned about that behavior. I had seen it there before, but I thought it was worse,” Sodey said.
“Then I went to the new school and did some voluntering there and you do not see that behavior there. Those kids appreciate that new building and they respect it and what they are doing in those classrooms with that technology is just amazing.”
Schnicker said there is also misinformation about the cost of renovating the buildings and that it will cost more to renovate than it will to build and the district will still need a referendum to raise the money to do that.
Board President Timm Lamb told the Fort Madison Rotary group that it will take $34 million to renovate the current buildings which would include bringing them up to code, as they are currently grandfathered in on city code as they stand.
Kate Lamb said the cost to the average citizen if the referendum passes is less than nine cents a day.
According to literature from the district, the property tax impact for homeowners in the district would be $2.64 a month on a home with a $75,000 assessed valuation or $31.68 per year. Agricultural land would be taxed at a lower impact to the owner.
If passed, the school is tentatively set to open at the beginning of the 2020 school year and both Lincoln and Richardson school students would attend that new building.