Written Testimony of Martha McIntosh, Murch HSA Co-President
DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing
DC Council Committee on Education
February 19, 2015
Hello. My name is Martha McIntosh and I am currently a Co-President of the Murch Home and School Association. I am also the parent of two students at Murch.
My oldest child is now in 4th grade. When he started at Murch, everyone talked about how the school was to be renovated soon and it was clear from touring the building just how much it needed to be done. Now, five years later, we are still talking about when the school will be renovated and both my children will complete school at Murch before any renovation will be complete.
But this started long before my kids ever got to Murch. In the mid-1990s, Murch, along with several other schools throughout the city, was nearly shut down by the courts because it was in such disrepair and had multiple fire code violations. The roof was replaced and parents helped to make repairs so that classes could be begin in the fall of 1997.
After that legal action, DC began developing a long-range plan to modernize its schools. Now, nearly 20 years later, all but about 25 schools in the city have been modernized. Murch is still waiting.
The Murch community wasn’t happy to be scheduled for modernization so late in the plan. The 2013 Master Facilities Plan rated Murch among the very worst in its suitability for meeting the needs of modern education, so we never imagined that the process would be delayed. Yet in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, the Murch modernization was pushed back to allow other schools to be moved up on the schedule. We had waited patiently, so apparently people assumed we could wait longer.
While the building had long been in need of modernization, it also had long needed to be enlarged. Last week the school honored a teacher who retired from Murch after 25 years, and he spent 24 of those years in a “temporary” structure that was put on the site in 1988.
The school building was already too small for the 520 kids attending in 2010, but then
enrollment soared. Today, there are 630 students and five separate areas of trailers on Murch’s small grounds. These trailers house three full grades, three resource classes, and 12 staff offices. Currently, six classrooms are accessed by having students cross through the school’s crowded parking lot, an area that also serves as access for deliveries and trash pickup.
To accommodate increased enrollment over the last two and a half decades, the school made the most of every space available. The nurse and counselor offices are in converted bathrooms – and they look like it. Former storage closets are now staff offices. Meanwhile custodial supplies are stored in student restrooms, and tables and chairs are stored all over the building, or outside, in any space that can be found. Meanwhile there is only one unisex restroom, with 2 toilets, to accommodate 86 staff and all adult visitors to the school.
On a typical day, the multi-purpose room is used full-time for PE classes, which means there is no cafeteria space. Murch students eat lunch in their classrooms, at their desks. Those students that eat breakfast at school eat at tables in the hallway. This, along with the age and deterioration of the building leads to rodent and pest issues.
Just as it has no cafeteria, Murch has no real kitchen. There is a warming kitchen that was carved out of the space already serving as a staff lounge, mailroom, and equipment area. People pass through the kitchen space hundreds of times each day in order to perform basic school functions. The room lacks ventilation. Once meals are ready, they are wheeled through the hallway and served from a cart permanently stationed in the hallway.
Detailing all the problems, even the major problems, with the current facility would take far longer than we have today. But a few others should be noted.
- ADA compliance is nonexistent in the main building at Murch. People with disabilities cannot get in the front door, much less around the building. This winter we had a 5th grader in a wheelchair, and luckily his classroom is in one of the trailers with a ramp because otherwise, I don’t know what we would do. As it is, he cannot get to the bathroom or any other part of the school without assistance.
- The intercom system does not work in some of the temporary spaces and is unreliable even in the main building.
- Heat and air conditioning systems require constant maintenance. Classrooms are routinely too cold or overheated, depending on the day. Some radiators are so hot that there is worry of children burning themselves.
- Mold, asbestos and lead paint have all been identified in the building.
- Broken lockers and other items around the school cannot be fixed because the replacement parts are no longer made.
My children and their classmates have been lucky enough to have extremely dedicated teachers who have done their best to overcome the challenges of the space. But that is not enough. Every student in the District should have a suitable place to learn. I ask the committee to ensure that future Murch students have a school that is safe and built for learning.
Written Testimony of Maggie Gumbinner, Murch HSA Co-President
DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing
DC Council Committee on Education
February 19, 2015
Hello. I am Maggie Gumbinner, and I am the other Co-President of the Murch Home and School Association.
Let’s face it, Murch’s test scores are good, and so we are easy to ignore. But, all of these issues with the facility mean that Murch staff spends an inordinate amount on building maintenance. That time should be focused on education. Even worse, decisions routinely must be made, not based on how to best meet the educational needs of students, but rather on how to accommodate the limits of the facility. Let me take a few minutes to go over how the outdated and overcrowded facilities are affecting learning.
Murch is now the most overcrowded school in the District with about 75 square feet per child, which is half of DCPS’s recommended size for the school population. Making the problem worse, the capacity of a school building is determined by its classroom space, without consideration of ancillary spaces, such as a gym, cafeteria, library, bathrooms and offices. The Murch building is nearly all classroom space, therefore, the capacity actually overstates the facility’s ability to meet the needs of students and staff.
Due to the size of the student population, Murch’s multi-purpose room is used for PE instruction from 9 am until 3:15 pm every day. Even this does not give students the time in PE classes that DCPS guidelines suggest. The school had to petition to repurpose funding that DCPS allocated for a second PE teacher because there was no space to teach a second class.
If the school schedules an assembly, book fair, or other activity using the multi-purpose room, PE must be held outside. That works most of the time, but if the weather doesn’t cooperate, PE is taught in the regular classroom.
There is also no space for indoor recess, which students spend at their desks reading or playing games. This leads to behavioral problems because the kids have not had a chance to get any energy out.
Small group work and tutoring is conducted on stairwell landings and in hallways with all of the distractions of students and staff walking by.
Integrating technology into the classroom has its own challenges with only two outlets in each classroom.
With so many classrooms outside of the main building, valuable time is taken away from instruction while kids get in and out of coats.
With no cafeteria, we must staff all 31 classrooms during lunch and we frequently must get substitutes to cover classes to allow for teacher planning time.
Due to the limited size of the multi-purpose room, school assemblies have to be split in half because the entire student body cannot all fit in the room at the same time. Many times an assembly can’t be repeated, so some students miss out.
When the Murch modernization was delayed, we were told that schools all over the city had problems, many worse than ours. It turns out most of the people saying that had never been inside Murch, and certainly not recently. But anyone who has visited Murch, particularly in the past several years, knows that current situation is not sustainable.
Many school communities have concerns about their facilities. The District neglected its school buildings for far too long, creating needs across the city that could not be met all at once.
DCPS needs to set rational criteria on which to base modernization priorities and, equally important, needs to be able to share data to defend the choices made. That would create a more open process with greater accountability.
Under the current process, no one has taken responsibility for the decisions that have been made. The Murch Community has been told that it is a joint decision between DCPS, DGS, and the DME. As a school, we also have been told that it is difficult for those agencies, particularly DCPS, to advocate for one school over another. But someone is picking. If not DCPS, then who? And based on what?
I submit that two questions should be asked as a starting point for making more rational, less political, decisions on which schools should be modernized as a priority. First, does the facility create health and safety risks for students and staff? Second, does the facility directly and negatively impact teaching and learning? Without asking these basic, threshold questions, the scarce resources available for construction can be allocated based on politics, geography, or concerns not directly related to the actual state of the school facility.
We all know that a new, modern facility can be seen as a tempting way to boost a struggling school. While at a school like Murch, student test scores don’t show the need.
The teachers and staff at Murch have done a tremendous job of managing to provide education in spite of the challenges presented by the facility. But, I’m not sure how much longer this can be sustained. And imagine what they could do without these unnecessary challenges.