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Even a little growth leaves some students, teachers feeling crowded

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 | 7:01 p.m. CDT; updated 11:34 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Latoya Minnis, a senior at Rock Bridge High School, reacts to a friend's comment in her African American Experiences class on Friday. Minnis says she doesn't think there are too many students at Rock Bridge, but she does concede that the "hallways are really crowded."

COLUMBIA — A first-day enrollment increase of 1.6 percent might not seem like much, but some teachers, administrators and students in the Columbia Public Schools find themselves feeling crowded.

Enrollment on Aug. 21 was 17,083 students, which is 261 more students than the first day of the 2006-07 school year, Assistant Superintendent Lynn Barnett said. Students have continued to enroll, and the year’s official tally will be released on the last Wednesday of September.

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JoNetta Weaver, principal at Shepard Boulevard Elementary School in the southeast part of the city, said the school increased by 56 students over the summer to 524. Classrooms are at maximum capacity at Shepard Boulevard, and the district will order at least one more trailer classroom to accommodate the growth, Weaver said.

An additional kindergarten class was created before the school year began, based on the anticipated number of students related to construction in the Bay Hills subdivision.

“The growth was greater than anticipated,” Weaver said. “We had to scramble to have desks and chairs.”

The added growth means Shepard Boulevard students face longer lines in the cafeteria and bathrooms, she said.

Barnett, who oversees support services for the district, said the growth was in line with expectations. The district looks at births in Boone County from five years earlier to guide the enrollment projections that are created each fall for the following academic year. The size of previous classes and, to some extent, new housing developments are also taken into account, she said.

“New subdivisions don’t necessarily mean new children,” Barnett said.

Teachers and students are occasionally reassigned to different schools to compensate for growth or decline in enrollment, she said.

Barnett said the district has grown steadily over the past 10 years and hasn’t been able to keep up with that growth. More than 150 portable classrooms are now used and at least four more have been ordered, she said.

A third high school and two elementary schools are part of long-term plans to address the increase in students. The $60 million bond issue voters approved April 3 will provide the funds to construct the one elementary school and the first phase of the new high school.

Rock Bridge High School increased by 53 students on its first day back in session, for a total of 1,710 as of Aug. 21. Principal Kathy Ritter said natural fluctuation was the main factor in the enrollment increase, with this year’s senior and sophomore classes being on the larger side. The seniors number 591, the sophomores 583.

“We graduated only a little over 500 students last year,” Ritter said.

The teachers at Rock Bridge are more mobile this year. Ritter said the school is running out of classrooms, and some teachers do not have their own rooms. In some cases, classrooms are used for more than one subject.

One of Katie Glover’s pop culture classes at Rock Bridge this year has 60 students. Although she teaches it with another teacher, that number of students is higher than normal, Glover said. With two psychology classes, which she teaches by herself, and two other sections of pop culture, Glover has a total of 232 students.

She said the biggest challenge will likely be grading as the semester progresses. Glover also said her worry with more students is that she won’t connect with them as much or find out what skills they need to improve.

Rock Bridge sophomore Steffon McCurley said his world studies class has 45 students, but the larger class sizes don’t bother him. However, the first five to 10 minutes of lunch are such a rush it’s hard to move, he said.

Ritter stressed that in spite of being crowded, the teachers are flexible and still able to meet the needs of students.


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