Archive for Thursday, October 12, 2006

Crowded schools at bond issue’s core

October 12, 2006

De Soto High School may have homeless teachers soon with the large number of new students in the building.

With a growth rate of from 60 to 70 students a year, the school needs approval of the 2006 bond issue or the school will soon run out of space, Principal Dave Morford said.

"We're not going to stop growing," he said. "We'll just continue to fill the building and overcrowd whether the bond issue passes or not."

Although the west side of the district is growing at a slower pace than the east side, administrators know that will change with the completion of a De Soto sewer project in 2007. That's why they're asking for money to increase De Soto High School's enrollment capacity from 750 to 1,000.

"The building capacity is listed as 750 students," Morford said. "But by seeing the number of students, we've got 500 now and we're using every classroom that we have."

Morford said with classrooms getting full, the school might have to consider traveling teachers soon. Traveling teachers don't have classrooms, but teach students out of their cart.

Mill Valley High School already has a five traveling teachers. One of those is Jairus Tapp, junior and sophomore English instructor. Tapp has to kick other teachers out of their classrooms during their plan period so that Mill Valley can have space for one more English class. The other teachers typically have to find space and a computer for their plan periods in a writing lab or library.

"At first, I was reluctant and disappointed when I didn't get a classroom," said Tapp, a first-year teacher. "But it really has worked out OK for me -- I don't get kicked out of a classroom, and I will always have my stuff."

Tapp said it could get complicated when he needed to speak with a student individually outside of class time. Additional classrooms at Mill Valley are another of the items scheduled for the 2006 bond issue.

The voters will choose whether to approve the $105.7 million bonds during the Nov. 7 referendum. The last day to register to vote with the Johnson County Election Office is Oct. 23.

The bond would also provide money for a weight room expansion and auxiliary gyms at both Mill Valley and De Soto High School, add two new elementary schools, add space for classrooms at Starside Elementary School, buy land for future school development and provide for an early childhood education center in Shawnee.

At Starside, the school is crowded even though it hasn't reached its 550-student capacity. This year's headcount showed about 510 students. However, facilities director Denis Johnson said that with all the state-mandated special programs required at Starside -- such as reading and special education -- classroom space had grown sparse. For example, four reading specialists have to share one classroom, divided with partitions to make space for teaching small groups of students. An English as a second language classroom at Starside is modified from a "discovery center" hallway with more partitions. Mill Valley Principal Joe Novak said school space is getting tight with the student population at 900 -- just 100 below the building's capacity. With current growth trends, it could easily pass the current capacity in two years.

Morford and Novak said class sizes are approaching 30 students at the high school, instead of their intended 22 students. Although it may not sound like an unusually high number of students, Novak said, many of the classrooms simply weren't built for the larger numbers of students.

"These rooms are built for 22 to 24 high school kids," Novak said. "But when you put technology in a room and bigger bodies -- we've got a student who's 6 feet, 6 inches tall -- when you increase that number to 26, you're elbow to elbow."

Novak said teachers at Mill Valley are working out of writing labs and cleaning out closets to find extra space.

"We are being as creative as we can be in establishing appropriate places to learn," Novak said. "If we're missing an alternative, I'd love to hear it."

When winter sports begin, Mill Valley students may have to come to school as early as 5:30 a.m. or stay as late as 9 p.m. for sports practices. Some De Soto High School practices begin as late as 8 p.m.

Although Mill Valley may be crowded now, most teachers and administrators agree that one school -- Monticello Trails Middle School -- is more crowded with 760 students in three grades. However, high numbers at that school could change next year with the opening of Mill Creek Middle School. The district's sixth elementary school at 71st and Chouteau will also help alleviate some crowding issues at the elementary level.

Although the district's elementary buildings on the east side -- Prairie Ridge, Clear Creek and Riverview -- were built to accommodate 600 to 550 students, several have well above that number. The district administrators know that will increase with growth projections that show over 2,000 children below the age of 4 living within the De Soto school district's boundaries. The population living within the De Soto district boundaries has grown from 8,739 in 1990 to about 26,000 in 2005.

Morford said his concern wasn't so much for the lack of space now, but for what it will be like by the time construction is completed. It would take about two years for the project to be planned and at least one more for the project to be completed. Morford said the schools should be ready before growth gets out of control.

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