Perhaps the situation isn’t quite as severe for city schools as this sounds, but it could become more serious if steps are not taken in the near future for additional facilities.
The Cleveland Board of Education visited the Cleveland City Council last week to ask for funding to purchase property for a new school, and construction of a facility for 500 to 700 students. In all, officials say a new school site and construction would cost approximately $13 million (at today’s most conservative numbers).
Many hope the county will decide on school repairs and improvements (costing an estimated $28 million) to alleviate its overcrowding and loss of space. This would give the city system funds necessary for a new school.
Director of Schools Dr. Martin Ringstaff highlighted (to the Council) the continued increase in enrollment at city schools, which jumped approximately 187 students this year. Early enrollment always fluctuates from day to day.
On the 10th day of school in 2010 the Cleveland school system had 4,943 students. This year the total was 5,130. This record increase equates to approximately seven additional classrooms to meet the BEP formula.
Another jump of this many new students in 2012 could create an unmanageable strain on the system’s facilities, perhaps bringing about the above-mentioned “teaching-in-the-closet” scenario.
The Bradley County Schools system has faced such jumps in enrollment in the past, and has utilized closet space for teachers and students.
Ringstaff didn’t focus on such a dire state of affairs in front of the Council Monday, only asking for support in meeting school needs. Specifics are available (from city and county schools) on growth and predicted-growth needs.
The biggest jump in enrollment for Cleveland schools this year was at the system’s newest school, Mayfield Elementary. Originally built for approximately 440 students, the increase of 69 students has pushed enrollment to 522. The total was 529 Tuesday, but some are development students and not eligible for BEP numbers
The impact on school facilities is tremendous, although it may not be visually apparent.
Mayfield has lost four “specialty” rooms while providing classroom space to meet the BEP formula. These are the courses which provide alternative lessons to students, aimed at developing skills and talents which will serve them well into their adult life.
How many young people first learned computer skills in a lab, with its world of technology? How many discovered the magic of music in a music room, or even resolved the difficulties of stuttering in a speech class?
Mayfield’s music room is now a first-grade classroom, the computer lab is a third-grade classroom, speech is now a second-grade classroom and guidance has been transformed into a third-grade class.
The adaptations at Mayfield do not mean these courses are being eliminated. Most have gone to “mobile” status, where teachers provide the learning experience from a cart or in another makeshift area. Cheryl Gilbert’s music class is now on the auditorium stage, behind the curtain.
One of two computer labs was closed and replaced by a classroom.
Principal Dee Dee Finison said teachers involved in the changes have been very open-minded and flexible.
Mayfield had a big jump in kindergarten enrollment. “On the first day they began coming out of the woodwork,” Finison said. “We expected three classes, and ended up with four, with 23 students per class.”
The Mayfield principal said next year needs to be discussed ahead of time. “We need to be proactive, instead of reactive,” she said.
Finison added that if Mayfield’s enrollment increases next year there are some options, but they are limited. The worst-case situation would be to use portable classrooms. The reading room with two small, book-storage rooms is an option. “We could move the books and a small reading space to a portable,” she said. “I would do that before moving students to a portable.”
Although Mayfield’s enrollment jump was the largest in the system, it is not alone in making tough decisions. Every city school increased enrollment this year, although three jumped by single digits, and Yates Elementary had an increase of only 10.
Cleveland Middle School increased by 41 students, Arnold Elementary by 36 and Cleveland High School by 24. All schools are adapting.
Principal Randall Stephens has been forced to turn Stuart Elementary’s art classroom into a fifth-grade class. Stuart’s teachers’ lounge and workroom has been converted to a first-grade class.
Some space problems were faced earlier. Yates’ teachers have used a mobile cart for several years to teach art and music, although the school does have a computer lab.
Ringstaff has said the city system needs a new elementary school, and the sooner the better; the process has begun with the selection of a new site. He points out that the school system has grown by an average of 100 students per year since the turn of the century.
If steps were to begin today on building a new school, it would probably be two to three years before it is ready for occupancy. That would mean the school system would have increased by approximately 300 students, or half the student body for a school of 500 to 700 students.
In five to six years, city schools would once again be near or above capacity.
Ringstaff said looking back at the enrollment history of city schools over the past 10 years shows some definite high points which forced decisions.
There was a big jump from 2003 to 2004 of 145 students, which eventually led to a decision to close the old Mayfield School and build a new school.
Prior to that, Cleveland Middle School was moved from a very crowded high school campus to the new model school across Interstate 75 on Georgetown Road.
Enrollment has continued to grow each year from a low of 41 students (2004-05) and 44 (2008-09) to this year’s 187 students.
The city’s new director of schools says he and the BOE realize new facilities are a “must” for the future. They have asked city and county leaders, and the general public, to face this challenge with them.