By Kim Walter
The administrative staff of Shenandoah County Public Schools is paying close attention to student enrollment numbers as the start of a new school year approaches.
Most numbers are in line with where they've been in recent years, but a few reports concerning kindergarten and middle school enrollment raised concerns during last week's Shenandoah County School Board meeting.
Stacey Leitzel, director of elementary education, reported that as of Aug. 8, kindergarten enrollment numbers were 97 at Ashby Lee, 157 at Sandy Hook, and 203 at W.W. Robinson.
Ashby Lee doesn't seem to be facing a huge change from last year's kindergarten class, but Sandy Hook and W.W. Robinson have 15 more students enrolled than they did at the same time last year.
W.W. Robinson is the only elementary school with more than 200 students in three separate grades -- kindergarten, first and second. Even with 10 teachers to each of those grades, class sizes would still average more than 20 students.
Leitzel said that several years ago the School Board had hoped to keep elementary class sizes at no more than 17 students to every teacher, but that ideal ratio can't happen with the current numbers.
Dr. Kevin Castner, interim superintendent, asked Leitzel if the enrollment numbers and projected class sizes were acceptable.
"Personally, no, not at all," she said. "But it's the reality."
School Board member Kathryn Holsinger referenced discussions during budget season that suggested having some funding for additional staff, if necessary.
"Especially with the younger grades, I get very concerned when it gets up to 20 or more kids per adult," she said.
Leitzel said instructional aides are available to the younger grades in all elementary schools, but their time is split throughout the day between classrooms. Holsinger asked if adding aides would be possible.
With school starting Sept. 3, Leitzel said she wanted to wait a little longer to see how the numbers go. Oftentimes, the first day of school reveals a different total enrollment than was projected, she said.
"We don't want to wait too long, because then it becomes harder to find a teacher," she said. "But if I had to find more help, I would only wait until a week before school starts."
Castner went on to point out another number that stuck out to him. Peter Muhlenburg Middle School currently has an increased total enrollment by 28 students.
"Whether it's budgeted or not, to me, this is a red flag to which the school system should respond," he said. "If you have 28 more kids than last year, you should add a teacher. Same goes for 28 fewer kids, you would take a position away."
Castner said he wasn't clear on his authority to make such changes, and asked the board members how they would like him to proceed with investigating the enrollment impact.
"It just really stood out to me from the other two middle schools," he said. "I would like to speak with the principal and find out what she thinks about this increase."
"I can contact every board member with my recommendation, or I can do what I need to do," he said.
Board members agreed that Castner should pursue a closer look at the numbers, and asked that they be included in any decision before it is made final.
"If these numbers have an impact on teaching or learning, it's the type of thing you've got to support," Castner said. "We'll keep an eye on it."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org