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Administrative News & Views: In need of space for learning

As the 2007-08 school year comes to a close, the district is looking ahead to next fall; in particular, the need to accommodate a growing student population at the middle school. This year, the sixth-grade class was the largest class in the middle school's history.

This increase in student enrollment has pushed the middle school beyond its capacity. Some core classes at the sixth- and seventh-grade levels went over the district's class size guideline of 22-27 students per class, so two teachers were hired mid-year to help reduce class sizes in science and social studies for both sixth and seventh grades. Hiring these additional teachers is part of the short-term solution because both teachers are without a classroom and move between the two grade levels with their materials on carts.

This practice is a departure from the middle school "house concept" teaching model, which is a best practice that is highly valued by our parents. The "house concept" allows teachers in a "house" or team to better support student learning and monitor progress, intervene faster when needed, and build important relationships with students during a critical period of pre-adolescent development.

Subdividing our large middle Sshool with a capacity for 1,125 students into smaller "houses" provides a structure that doesn't overwhelm our youth with its size.

Pressure is also being placed on the middle school exploratory classes. For some classes, especially those using equipment, safety can be more of a concern when classes are larger. Most exploratory classes have a set number of stations for students to work at -- when class sizes are larger than what the stations can accommodate, students are provided with less hands-on experience, and learning potential is reduced.

Middle school growth is expected to continue based on demographer Dr. Hazel Reinhardt's March 2008 student enrollment projections. Even using Reinhardt's most conservative or low projections, the middle school's estimated over-capacity enrollment nearly doubles for the next two years and is followed by significant increases in the succeeding years.

Ultimately, this growing number of middle school students will move on to the high school. The high school, currently with 1,668 students, is projected (again using low projections) to be over capacity in four years. The high school's capacity of 1,680 leaves only an estimated 10-40 unfilled seats during this period.

Our middle school and high school enrollments are growing beyond the functional capacity of our buildings. Last fall, the Board of Education adopted a set of assumptions that will help guide the district as it moves forward in determining a "long-term space for learning" solution for our students in grades 6-12. This list of assumptions is available on the district homepage,, under Secondary Space for Learning.

What are the district's next steps to achieve a long-term solution? The Board of Education is currently reviewing the work of the Facilities Task Force in light of updated enrollment data and will study current and future program and curriculum needs for students in grades 6-12.

Consideration will be given to program and space for learning needs to implement the district's new long-range strategic plan, HSD 2025. Following study of data and community input, the district will determine the most feasible long-term space for learning options. Watch for more information in my future columns about the board's study to determine a gr. 6-12 "long-term space for learning" solution and how you can become involved.