Discovery Elementary School staff members “are excited” to welcome West Elementary students and staff, said Ali Parkinson, principal at Discovery.
She is looking forward to greeting students and staff from a school where she served as principal for several years, before becoming Discovery’s principal in 2014.
“I have nothing but positive memories and connections with people at West," said Parkinson, adding it feels “wonderful” to welcome the West contingent.
West students will go to school at Discovery starting March 2, but their teachers and classmates will be the same -- their classrooms are moving intact to the new site. That was the goal, school district administrators said, as they searched for an alternate location for West students and staff after high levels of mold were detected in the school in late January and made evacuation necessary.
About 30 staff members and 90 students at West, a school near University Park, will relocate to Discovery Elementary School on 43rd Avenue South. The students are in kindergarten and grades two through five. West does not have a first grade at this time.
Discovery, which opened in August 2015, was built as a five-section school, meaning five classrooms for each grade, but is operating four sections per grade, said Parkinson, who served one year as principal while Discovery was in the planning stage.
To accommodate the West students, Discovery classrooms are being moved into spaces occupied by itinerant teachers, who, like the Spanish teacher, do not teach fulltime in the school.
At a meeting Wednesday, Feb. 19, at West, an audience of about 80 parents and others heard details of an evacuation plan -- and what it will mean for their families -- presented by school district officials.
West students will not all be together at Discovery, but each West classroom will be kept intact and located in an area with the same grade-level classrooms, said Jody Thompson, associate superintendent of elementary education for the Grand Forks school district.
West teachers visited Discovery on Wednesday to see where their classrooms will be located, and an open house for West parents and students to visit the school is planned for 3 to 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28. If parents cannot be present at that time, Thompson said, Discovery staff will welcome them when they can visit.
Thompson asked parents if the West school could be closed on Thursday, Feb. 27, to allow teachers to prepare their new classrooms at Discovery; parents agreed. That will give teachers two days to prepare, he said, since Friday has already been set aside as a professional development day. That Thursday would not have to be made up as a school day, he said.
About 40 children in the Early Childhood Special Education program at West will relocate to Phoenix Elementary School, which also has an ECSE classroom, Superintendent Terry Brenner said at the meeting.
In response to a question from the audience, Brenner emphasized that the move to West does not constitute a hidden agenda.
“There’s no conspiracy theory; there’s no plan the superintendent has to close West,” he assured parents.
School district administrators considered about a dozen venues as an alternate location for West, including churches near West and elsewhere, Brenner said.
The decision was narrowed to Discovery based on the availability of a sufficient number of classrooms, licensed kitchen, meeting rooms for teachers, office space for administrators, indoor and outdoor space for physical activity and music room, Brenner said.
Discovery, which has an enrollment of about 500, was seen as ideal because of its separate vehicle lanes for student drop-off and pick-up, access to technology and a push-to-talk security system at the building entrance.
West students who will move to Discovery include 18 in kindergarten, 17 in second grade, 12 in third grade, 21 in fourth grade and 18 in fifth grade, Parkinson said.
How long the West students and teachers will be housed at Discovery is unknown at this time, because the extent of the problem is not yet known, Thompson said at Wednesday’s meeting.
The inspection at West revealed a type of mold “that is typically known as ‘black mold,’ ” said Chris Arnold, director of buildings and grounds for Grand Forks Public Schools. “And I’m not comfortable with the potential for a wet spring.”
The mold poses too great a health risk to allow West to continue to function as a learning environment while remediation work is in progress, Arnold said in response to a parent’s question about the need for evacuation.
Arnold said he does know yet the extent of the mold problem at West -- and won’t until walls are opened and interiors examined.
Arnold and his colleagues want to “address the reasons why you’re getting mold in this building,” he said, but cautioned that the project will require patience.
The mold remediation project “is going to be extensive, it’s going to be costly, and it’s going to take us time to get you guys back up.”
Parents appeared to be satisfied with the information they received from school officials.
“I’m glad they’re fixing the problem and getting West to where it needs to be, and we can be back and start fresh next year,” said Tracey Taylor, a West parent.
Her daughter, Sheylynn, 9, said she is “nervous” about attending a different school, when asked about her feelings after the meeting.
“She’s a third-grader in Mrs. Raymond’s class,” Taylor said. “She loves going to school at West.”
Like many parents who spoke in Wednesday’s meeting, Taylor expressed concern about transportation.
“We live right across the street from West, so she walks to school,” she said. “It’ll be a change, but we’ll get through it.”
Free bus transportation, to and from Discovery, will be available for West students who live in the school’s attendance area, Thompson said.
West parents will be contacted by the district to provide information for “bag tags,” which will help to assure that each child is dropped off at the right location.
In an email Parkinson sent to Discovery parents Wednesday informing them of the changes to accommodate the transition, she said, “We are one district, and being one district means that we look out for each other, which is exactly why this is the right thing to do.”
“Each school is unique, and our goal is to allow each school to flourish in their own way while being housed in the same building,” she said.
After the email was sent, she said, “my inbox was inundated with Discovery parents asking what they can do to help and commenting on how wonderful this is for our community.”
Parkinson is planning to have extra staff on hand before and after school to make sure all students are dropped off and picked up safely, she said.
Adding 89 new students and 25 West staff members to Discovery will be “an adjustment,” she said. “I see it as an opportunity to honor the West community and the Discovery community and to find ways to learn from each other.”
She is intent, she said, on “having this be a positive experience for everybody.”