Proposed lease agreement with WC Learning Center causes stir

By: 
Kate Wehlann, Staff Writer

It probably wasn’t what most would have expected to stretch the September Salem Community Schools board meeting to two hours long.

Seeing a need to give the interactive media class more studio space after the board approved the class in June, the Washington County Learning Center offered to lease a set of five rooms at their facility to the school for free that would allow the students a more real-life environment. This proposal was originally brought to the board in August, but a decision regarding the lease was tabled until the September meeting. According to the lease agreement given to board members in August, normal rent for those rooms would be $10,495.57 a year. 

Three students — Holden Kidd, Abigail Persinger and Cassie Walton — and their teacher, J.D. Wade-Swift spoke to the board about the class and the difference using those rooms has made, hoping the board would approve their continued use and sign the official lease agreement.

“Our thought with this is we’re trying to reach the world,” said Wade-Swift. “Our vision for the class is to be a class that reaches not only the students at Salem Community Schools, the community we live in or county, but the world that surrounds us. It’s kind of an outreach program where we go beyond the walls of the high school.”

Kidd said the members of the class hope to make the program something the entire district can be proud of and open the door to new opportunities for students at the high school.

Persinger highlighted the need for a better space to work.

“[The studio we have at] Salem High School is a storage room, pretty much, and it’s really, really small compared to [what we have at the Community Learning Center],” she said. “The atmosphere in the space is completely different from the one in Salem High School. It feels more professional and like we’re actually going to a job and making something not just for the school, but for everyone in the world. It’s just amazing compared to what we have now.”

Walton said she remembered being in the class last year and the limitations the old studio set on students.

“We worked only out of the studio at the high school and we would edit and record in there, which was always a struggle from how small the space is,” said Walton. “We’d also do our podcast and filming in the same room, so that’s a struggle. Here, we have a separate room for filming and editing and podcasting and even having meetings.”

The 20-plus-minute shows the class creates are available on YouTube.

Kidd said he hopes to expand and broadcast different types of media along with the podcast and news show — such as an online radio station and livestreaming different events.

“We have so many ideas that keep going around of more things we want to do in our future,” said Kidd.

“I know we already have some of that stuff, but we’re talking about kid-driven,” said Wade-Swift. “Some of this stuff is already going on around us. I’ve worked with Charlestown hand-and-hand and partnered up with them. They do a great job with their kids and how they produce stuff. We’re trying to give more opportunity to our students and that’s what this show is all about.”

West Washington also has a flourishing multimedia program with a functioning TV station with radio capabilities, routinely taking students in the program to compete at the national level with the Business Professionals of America.

Wade-Swift compared this to students going to Prosser for other Career and Technical Education programs in real-world situations, only this would require the students to hop on one of the short, white buses and make a five-minute trip down the road to an office space where they can be “all business.”

“They took this space and made it great and that’s what we preach every single day,” he said. “It would be a real shame if we didn’t say ‘yes, let’s keep that up.’ If the Washington County Community Foundation has been so generous as to give us the space, it would be a shame not to use it.”

You can find out more about the class by reading a story by Monika Spaulding on salemleader.com.

The class had been briefly using the rooms without board approval, but has stopped and has been waiting for approval. Doing things without approval is fairly unusual, but not unheard of, as boards have been seen to approve field trips after the group has already returned from the trip.

The board was assured the studio space at the school would still be used to interview students at the school when the Salem Show needed to do so and there could still be interaction with the school, even when the show was produced at the Learning Center.

Board member Steve Motsinger asked if Wade-Swift had considered the safety of the students at the Learning Center versus the school buildings.

“It’s a secure location,” said Wade-Swift. “I know it’s the Learning Center, but the doors that go into it are locked and I’ll always be in there with them. As far as being safe, it’s as safe as anywhere else they could be … How do we assure the safety of the kids at Prosser? They even have a longer drive. We go four minutes down the road.”

Motsinger made a motion then to approve the lease, seconded by Spaulding, but more questions were forthcoming.

Board President Becky White objected to the students saying they were broadcasting from the Community Foundation without mentioning Salem High School.

“So you have to say, ‘Broadcasting from the Community Foundation,’ and this is a high school, Salem High School?” she asked. “In our contract, it says you have to say that? Where’s Salem High School?”

“It’s the Salem Show,” replied Wade-Swift. “They know it’s from Salem.”

“But you said you were putting Salem on the map, you said,” she replied. 

Kidd reminded White the school isn’t paying for the use of the rooms, so the show is able to be put on at the level it is thanks to the Community Foundation.

“It lets people know that they are helping support their community,” he said. “They’re able to donate this studio for nothing. It’s amazing, we get to use it, it’s free, but we’re still The Salem Show. We just say ‘We’re here in the Washington County Community Foundation studio’ as a thanks to letting us use this space instead of having to stay at the high school … They don’t have to do that.”

“We’re not losing our branding,” assured Wade-Swift. “Everything about the shows will be about Salem Community Schools.”

There is no requirement in the lease agreement to mention the Washington County Community Foundation in the Salem Show’s broadcasts. Superintendent Lynn Reed said she believed the students have chosen to credit the organization.

Garloch asked again about security measures. White added that the Learning Center is at the Y and people could walk right in. Board member Dr. Tricia Wheeler reminded the board the space the students are in is locked off and not accessible from the YMCA and Spaulding added she had to knock and gain admittance when she went to write a story about the program for The Salem Leader. 

“I feel completely safe when we go in there,” said Wade-Swift. “My wife works there and I’m feel completely safe that my wife is working there and if I’m putting my family somewhere — and I treat these kids as my kids — then I feel completely safe with them being there. If we’re on a lockdown, obviously we can’t go over there; that’s bottom line.”

“And if they’re already there, they’ll stay there,” said Principal Troy Albert from the audience area of the board room. “We did that this past week (the week of Sept. 7) with our interns. When our interns found out, they had to stay in their locations until we could securely, safely get them back to our school. It was not any different than what we do with Prosser or anywhere else. There just has to be a trail of communication and that’s what we’re trained to do. I have a lot of faith in that. I was excited in June when I got a tour of [the studio] and I’m more excited now with the pictures we’ve seen of what the facility looks like now.”

Motsinger said this program would be another good option for students wanting to learn a skill and trade that could allow them to work through college or go straight into the work force instead. Security, he conceded, was an issue, but one whether students are at the school or the Learning Center, and would always be an issue.

“If safety [concerns would prevent this program being held at the Learning Center], then we need to take away the internship program,” Spaulding said. 

“But we hadn’t discussed [the safety aspect],” said White. “… We’re only trying to play catch-up. I guess Monika knows and Tricia knows and Steve knows, but I did not personally know.”

White said she has never been to the Community Learning Center and isn’t familiar with the building.

“Now that Mr. Albert has informed us of the procedure, now I know,” said Garloch.

“I think we’re getting bogged down with all the other stuff,” said Wade-Swift. “What we need to see is this is a great opportunity to get them to the next level. Broadcasting, news, whatever that next level is, having an office like this is going to give them that real-world experience and that’s what we always preach — a real-world experience. The program is wonderful. We’ve proven that. What I’m focused on is that space because that’s real-world. It’s an office space. There’s other things going on in there and they know to be respectful and do their work and that’s what they’ve done.”

“Before that, here, at the high school, they had a room — I was told they had really good equipment,” White said.

Wade-Swift agreed, saying the equipment is good, if a bit outdated due to the progression of technology, so the class is working on writing grants and getting funding to update that equipment, but he wasn’t asking for money or approval to do those upgrades in the Monday meeting.

Reed said the school’s insurance will cover any property or casualty coverage there as though the students were in school and said she’s spoken with Wade-Swift about funding the program.

“We are not going to bombard the community with any paid advertisements,” she said. “We’re going to write grants. I wrote a grant last week and put some of his needs in there for his program.”

Should another organization come to the Washington County Community Foundation and ask to rent the rooms and pay that cost, the lease agreement says the students would need to vacate the rooms. There were only a few very small changes to the lease agreement in the past month and one of the changes was that the WCCF had to give 30 days’ notice, specifically in writing, should they decide to rent the rooms out.

Once again, Motsinger made a motion to accept the lease agreement, but it was held off for more discussion clarifying what had already been said.

When a question of safety came up once again, Wheeler replied, “We just approved all these out-of-state field trips and you never once questioned safety then.”

“I just have that flashback of what happened last week at the high school,” said Garloch, referring to a report of a Salem Middle School student receiving a personal threat from a previous student in Kentucky and the school going under a soft lockdown as a precaution on Friday, Sept. 7.

Wheeler replied that when she has interns come in, or at Gilstrap’s, which also has interns from the school, her whole office is under safety.

“I think this is one of the safest places they can be,” said Wheeler.

“I don’t see how this is any different than our internship program,” said Spaulding.

“Or Prosser,” added Wade-Swift.

Garloch brought up the band room proposed last year, proposed in part out of concern for safety with students walking across the street, in plain sight, both during the day and after sporting events at night.

Several board members began to speak at once and someone said they wanted to go to a vote as the board had received a motion and a second. White insisted she wasn’t done reading the lease agreement and wasn’t ready to vote. Wheeler asked if she had read the lease agreement they received last month and White said she had, but wanted to go over the changes, which Reed said consisted of adding “in writing” to a few places in the agreement. She said she wanted to go and see the facility for herself before voting. Wheeler said they had to vote to approve it before White could tour it.

“We’ve been trying to bring everything in-house,” White replied. “We’ve been talking about wanting our band room in the high school and have our students feel and be a part of everything and interact and the problem with this is we want the kids to see other kids doing more and seeing that class. You’re putting them on an island over there, but having it at the school, other kids could see how cool you guys are because broadcasters are cool. They’ll be able to see you at work in school.”

“And they will when they’re doing their interviews and reporting,” said Spaulding.

“Should that day come when we need to do a show and tell, we can do that at the school,” said Wade-Swift when White suggested that students who may be interested in being a part of the class wouldn’t be able to see it in action and would be left out. “If we’re wanting to push for the betterment of the kids, I don’t understand why this is even a question.”

White was quick to say she was in favor of the betterment of the students and then said safety was her concern.

“We’re still being safe. It’s just this group that’s going and J.D. is with them and they’re over there —” she said before White interrupted her to explain why she was concerned about safety.

Motsinger said while safety will always be a concern there is no way to 100 percent ensure safety for students.

“We’ve made it safer and we’re continuing to make it safer,” he said. “That’s all we can do. We’re doing our due diligence to our students, teachers and faculty. Can we predict and keep everything from happening? Our football team can go to Eastern High School and be on the road and there be a bomb on the underside of the bus that goes off. Can we do anything about that? We don’t know. We can plan to be the safest and do the best we can, but we can’t keep things from happening. We can’t keep these kids from going to a building.”

Students aren’t exposed to other adults from off the street. There is an entrance just for the Learning Center the students will use, so they will not enter the YMCA entrance that’s open to the public.

“They don’t interact with anyone else until they go to leave,” Wade-Swift said. Students will be at the Learning Center for about an hour. Board member Mark Abbott said it would be a possibility to have the school resource officer drive by during the time students would be there.

The lease agreement approval was unanimously granted.

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