Education

Rock Hill students crowded out of classrooms

Northside Elementary School art teacher Kelli Passmore conducts class in a   room that was  the   kitchen for the school's first cafeteria. The current cafeteria is full from 10:30 a.m., when the first round of students have to eat lunch, until after 1 p.m.
Northside Elementary School art teacher Kelli Passmore conducts class in a room that was the kitchen for the school's first cafeteria. The current cafeteria is full from 10:30 a.m., when the first round of students have to eat lunch, until after 1 p.m. aburriss@heraldonline.com

Teacher carts are common at schools that have more teachers than classrooms. The carts allow teachers to move their supplies between available classrooms.

At Northside Elementary in Rock Hill, carts are not only common, they are often seen in the quiet corners of hallways, where teachers sit on the floor instructing students because of the lack of classrooms.

“When you are hired here, I tell people, ‘I’m going to give you an incredible cart,’” Principal Cassidy Valerino said.

Besides insufficient classroom space, Northside Elementary also does not have enough meeting space for teachers. In fact, the only meeting room available is the principal’s office.

When teachers meet there, Valerino takes her own cart, which becomes a mobile office along the school’s hallways.

While the carts, hallway instruction and seven “learning cottages” – exterior mobile classrooms – are not ideal, most of the more than 600 students at Northside have come to expect them. The situation is all they know and they make do, Valerino said.

Nonethless, teacher Arin Smart says the faculty is “not able to provide what the students need,” and instruction time is lost.

All that could change if Rock Hill voters opt on May 5 to issue $110 million in bonds for school improvements. The money would be spent on 51 projects, which have been divided into six categories.

One of the categories calls for renovations at Northside and 12 other elementary schools. The work includes library upgrades and construction of new classrooms, cafeterias and office space.

Plans also call for windows, doors, ceilings and flooring upgrades at the Applied Technology Center, Rawlinson Road and Sullivan middle schools, and Northwestern and Rock Hill high schools.

The $5 million slated to be spent at Northside “would be the most exciting thing done for this school,” Valerino said.

The district’s plan calls for the current cafeteria to be turned into a classroom and for 12 other classrooms to be upgraded. A larger cafeteria also would be built.

The goal is to have no outside mobile classrooms – which means no bins at each doorway filled with blue umbrellas for students to use and large mats on the sidewalks for students to scrape mud off their feet before entering the mobile classrooms.

The cafeteria would be capable of handling more students at one time. Like several other Rock Hill schools, Northside begins serving lunch at 10:30 a.m. and ends service at 1:15 p.m.

But what excites Valerino and her staff the most is that the new cafeteria will have a stage.

Northside Elementary is the district’s school of choice arts school, which means students from throughout the district attend the school for its arts emphasis. The biggest performance space is in the gym, which has terrible acoustics, Valerino said, and lacks a sound system. When arts events are held in the gym, the usual physical education activities are moved elsewhere.

The stage in the current cafeteria is so small it’s impossible for even one grade to hold a performance there and have enough room for parents, grandparents and friends.

“It’s a fire code issue,” Valerino said.

Three years ago, the lack of space came into sharper focus when Valerino was faced with the choice of turning kindergarten parents away from a performance or risk a fire code violation. She asked everyone not directly related to a kindergarten student or the performance to leave the room.

“How can you tell a parent they can’t watch their child perform?” she said.

Northside Elementary holds most of its performances at either Eastside Baptist Church or Saluda Trail Middle School.

If the weather is nice, performances can be held on an outdoor stage. It’s the largest stage at the school but lacks seating.

Valerino said she will put up with all the headaches that come with construction to have performances on site where there is enough room for parents, friends and students.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

Proposed bond expenses for renovations and new construction of Rock Hill schools

▪ Northwestern and Rock Hill high schools: $16.5 million to replace or repair windows, doors, ceilings and floors

▪ Rawlinson Road and Sullivan middle schools, the Applied Technology Center: $13 million to replace or repair windows, doors, ceilings and floors

▪ Children’s School at Sylvia Court and Ebenezer Avenue elementary schools: $3.1 million for possible expansions to meet capacity issues

▪ Finley Road, Lesslie and Belleview elementary schools:

$2.4 million for classroom upgrades and exterior improvements

▪ Belleview, Finley Road, Independence, Lesslie, Mount Gallant, Northside, Sunset Park and York Road elementary schools: $360,000 for library upgrades and renovations

▪ Ebinport Elementary:$2.9 million for office and gymnasium renovations, classroom renovations and new classrooms

▪ India Hook Elementary: $300,000 for new classrooms

▪ Northside Elementary School of the Arts: $5 million for new cafeteria with stage, turning former cafeteria into classrooms, office and classroom renovations

▪ Oakdale Elementary: $2 million for classroom upgrades or expansion

▪ Rosewood Elementary: $2.2 million for cafeteria expansion or replacement, new learning commons

▪ Sunset Park Elementary:

$3.3 million to expand cafeteria and renovate the “A” wing and main wing for “learning suites”

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