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Molly Boyer

Muscatine parent Molly Boyer presented a petition to the Muscatine School Board Monday night outlining the concerns of nearly 1,000 parents who hope to keep Central Middle School open. The school is planned to merge with West Middle next year.

MUSCATINE — Central Middle School won't be closed until next year, but some Muscatine parents say the elementary schools are already overcrowded and having issues that will only get worse.

Muscatine mother of four, Molly Boyer, presented a petition with nearly 1,000 signatures to the Muscatine School Board Monday night. It outlined concerns about combing middle schools and the situation in the elementary schools.

They ask for Central Middle to remain open until West Middle is renovated — with permanent classrooms — to accommodate the additional students and staff.

“The decision and implication of keeping sixth grade students at the grade schools, which has resulted in overcrowding, is what prompted this petition,” Boyer said.

She said the decision has created "undesirable circumstances" for Muscatine students and teachers and negatively impacts the academic experiences of students and staff. Boyer said she is concerned the issues and challenges will only escalate.

Boyer said larger class sizes have resulted in a lack of space, and temporary classrooms are unfair to teachers and students. There are longer wait times and a lack of seating in the cafeteria, so students can't finish eating during their lunch break. And there is excessive congestion of traffic at pick-up time.

“Based on the ramifications of this year’s changes, we are concerned that a merged middle school will likely experience similar effects but on a grander scale because the student population is larger,” Boyer said.

She said locker availability, parking issues, inadequate sports equipment, lack of auditorium space and potentially more disciplinary issues were also concerns.

Boyer suggested waiting a year to allow West Middle School to build an addition and moving the sixth grade back to the middle schools to help with the overcrowding in the elementary schools.

Two other Muscatine parents spoke in support.

“Up until this year, I’ve been satisfied with (my son’s) education experience,” said Natalie Maxwell-McDonald, parent of a sixth grader at Madison Elementary. “This year however, his days are sometimes overshadowed by the effects of overcrowding and I worry about how these issues will potentially be compounded in an overcrowded middle school.”

Maxwell-McDonald also said her son didn’t have science class for the first few weeks because of lack of science kits, and elementary libraries didn't have sixth grade reading material.

“I’ve always been an advocate for small class sizes,” said Jill Holler, a teacher and parent.

The Iowa Department of Education says the ideal third-grade class room has 17 students, she said, but Madison has classes of 29-31 students.

“We’re just concerned and we want the best for our kids — to have the dignity of not being crowded in small spaces," Holler said.

Holler said smaller class sizes were proven to provide teachers the opportunity to offer more personalized instruction, improve academic achievement, foster better relationships with peers and teachers and classroom focus. She said they were beneficial for students with special needs, and helped with teacher retention.

Board President Tammi Drawbaugh said the Dec. 9, School Board meeting will discuss the merger of the two middle schools and look at modifications needed.

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