Parents and students at last week’s Chester Upland School Board meeting expressed concern about the uneven ratio of students to teachers at what is now called the Health and Technology High School, the result of merging the Science and Discovery and Allied Health high schools.
Due to the state’s cuts to educational funding, it was necessary for the district to merge the two schools into one.
One parent said more than 700 students are attending the conjoined school with only 20 teachers. Students complained that lunch periods are filled to capacity with 200 or more students and classrooms are breaking at the seams with an insufficient number of desks.
“Students are sitting on the floors, on steps and in the halls,” said one student. “How can anybody receive an education like this?”
School Board President Wanda Mann said she spent all day Thursday listening to concerns of the students and in a closing statement, new board member Ieasa Harmon said she spent at least 30 hours in the district attempting to settle issues.
“When we came up with this plan to merge schools, this was never the expectation, otherwise I would have never sent my own children,” said Harmon, adding, “We are at a lack of resources, but we expected to be at a lack of resources when we entered this school year. I will not allow you to believe that the board is doing absolutely nothing about the education of these students.”
Harmon continued, “My daughter is sitting there and she can tell you how many hours have been spent trying to make things happen for our students. We are cash-strapped. We have established a parent body and student body that we are working with. Please don’t leave here thinking that you were not heard or that when the bell rings we shut you off or compartmentalize you, because that is not the case.”
On Sept. 13th more than 30 high school students walked out of the new school in protest and marched to the Chester-Upland administration building.
Questions were asked as to whether students who participated in the walk-out would be disciplined; the response given was that an in-house resolution was being discussed.
Acting Schools Superintendent Dr. Joyce Wells conceded that there have been “several glitches,” adding that steps were being taken to “work through the confusion.”
Parent Delores Sharp, whose child attends the new high school, expressed appreciation to Mann for taking time to meet with students.
“The children felt better that you came and talked to them and you heard them,” said Sharp. “They are looking for a resolution.”
During the meeting, district spokesman Joel Avery came under fire from state Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland (D-159) for comments he made regarding the involvement of the state and local NAACP. Avery allegedly questioned the timing of the organization’s press conference; held on the same day as the walk-out.
Kirkland and resident Delores Shelton raised questions about the necessity of having a district spokesman (Avery) and paying him $60,000 annually when he is not in the district on a daily basis and was not present at the meeting.
“Can’t you hire a teacher for that amount of money?” asked Kirkland. Mann said Avery has done a good job for the district.
Initially, Mann said she thought the NAACP organized the student walk-out, however, after learning the walk-out was organized by the students with assistance from Action United, another organization, Mann apologized to both Kirkland and Chester NAACP President Darrell Jones.