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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Orchard Prairie School District looking to expand beyond four classrooms

On a recent foggy Monday morning, the superintendent of Orchard Prairie School District played with a kindergartner in a small, cramped classroom. He helped her organize buttons of varying colors and sizes while she talked excitedly.

That connection among students, teachers and administrators is one reason about 40 percent of Orchard Prairie students are sent there by choice, not because they live in the district.

But even if he was so inclined, Superintendent Howard King, who doubles as the principal of Orchard Prairie Elementary, wouldn’t be able to retreat from the students. His office is in the back corner of a classroom, tucked behind a makeshift wall made of filing cabinets.

“Sometimes I go out to my car to make a phone call,” he said.

King, the 80 students in kindergarten through seventh grade, seven teachers and a secretary share four classrooms. Two are in the original 1894 schoolhouse, located northeast of Spokane. The other two classrooms are in a 1970s-era building.

“We just don’t have adequate facilities right now to provide for our kids,” King said. “We make do … but for the benefit of our kids and our staff and our community we really need an upgrade.”

That’s why district officials say they are asking voters to approve a nearly $1.5 million bond on Feb. 9. The district, one of the county’s smallest, asked for a similar bond last February but fell just short of the 60 percent approval needed. The bond money would go toward building a multipurpose room and modernizing the ’70s-era building, including making it accessible to people with disabilities.

Orchard Prairie is one of several Spokane-area rural districts, along with East Valley, seeking money in February’s special election.

“We love being a small district and a small school,” said kindergarten and art teacher Kirsten Schierman. “But even small schools need more space.”

Schierman has taught at the school for 18 years. She said she was shocked when the bond failed last year.

“Oh, we were devastated,” she said. “We thought our community would remember how great we’ve been over the years.”

Teachers and PTO members have been canvassing the community explaining exactly what the money would go toward. Schierman worries that if the district doesn’t upgrade its facilities, it could be absorbed into a larger district.

“We want to remain our own district,” she said. “It’s an old-time feel right here in Spokane and it should be valued. It should be treasured.”

In addition to adding space and modernizing the buildings, teachers said the funds would improve the district’s security. Janie Farrell, who teaches first and second grade, said people have wandered onto the school’s campus. At one point she said a drug deal was conducted on the road directly in front of the school.

“We’ve had some interesting characters wander up here,” she said. “Once in a while you have a parent interrupt during class.”

King said roughly 40 percent of the students who attend Orchard Prairie opt into the district, largely because of the school’s reputation as a small, intimate learning environment. King said the renovations wouldn’t change the culture of the school.

“It’s not really an issue of what we want,” King said. “We’re looking for what we need.”