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Two schools over 100 percent capacity

By Josette Keelor

WOODSTOCK -- As Shenandoah County Public Schools prepare for a new school year, overcrowding was an important topic of discussion at a Thursday night School Board meeting.

Though student enrollment is down on the county's southern campus in Mount Jackson, Superintendent Jeremy Raley said, "Two of our schools are over 100 percent capacity."

Sandy Hook Elementary School in Strasburg and W.W. Robinson Elementary in Woodstock are each at 107.6 percent capacity, according to a report Raley presented to the board. Based on a recent adjusted capacity rate by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute of Virginia Commonwealth University, Sandy Hook's capacity is 953, and W.W. Robinson's is 1,192.

The county's third elementary school, Ashby Lee in Mount Jackson has a 796-person capacity rate and is currently at 82.4 percent capacity.

Raley told the board that Sandy Hook in particular is using spaces "not designed to be classrooms."

For years, said School Board member Kathryn Holsinger, "we've asked for the extra building to help with overcrowding at Sandy Hook - for a cafeteria - and we've gotten nowhere, so there is a need."

According to School Board Chairman Richard L. Koontz Jr., board members have looked at options for remedying capacity issues, but a solution isn't as easy as redistricting since doing that will cause overcrowding in middle schools and eventually high schools.

Currently, the most crowded middle or high school is Strasburg High, at 81.5 percent capacity. The county's largest high school, Central High in Woodstock, has a capacity of 1,002.

The adjusted capacity rate is based on "standard operating capacity" for each school, the report explained. For elementary schools, capacity was modified to recognize the requirement that all kindergarten through third grade classes have a student-teacher ratio of 21:1.

The report included tables showing each school's numbers, but Holsinger assured, "Seeing is believing. We can show all the data in the world until you see Sandy Hook cafeteria in action, ... or go to W.W. [Robinson] and see the special ed resources classes in the corner."

Member Katheryn Freakley agreed, "You have to see it when the kids are in the building, there's no other time. You have to see it in action to appreciate the gravity of the situation."

Raley suggested holding a community stakeholders meeting to discuss the future of the county's schools, calling such a discussion "a mirror image of our community."

Board members agreed, and when Vice Chairman Karen Whetzel suggested high school students attend the community meeting, Holsinger joked, "How about elementary students?" Or at least their parents, the board decided.

As Koontz acknowledged, "I think it's a great idea."

The School Board also discussed its intention to extend an option on about 3 1/2 acres of land adjacent to Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The option, which expires Monday, was authorized in a memorandum of option agreement in 2009. Raley recommended the School Board extend the option for five years for a cost of $500.

Raley also recommended the School Board vote on four pieces of unused property the School Board owns.

"Through a variety of ways... over time the School Board has acquired property that is not contiguous to our school campuses," Raley told board members. "You may describe that as surplus land."

He recommended the School Board keep the two properties across from, but not connected to, Strasburg High School and declare properties in Woodstock and Mount Jackson as surplus.

The properties he recommended declaring as surplus are .324 acres on the corner of Pugh's Lane and Jadwyn Road in Woodstock and .6 acres described as "pump house" across the street from Stonewall Jackson High School in Mount Jackson.

"If we keep the land it will certainly be ours," Raley said in a phone interview Friday, "but if they choose to declare it as surplus it will revert back to the county. ... We certainly benefit from any sort of revenue that comes to the county."

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com>

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