Recommendation given to School Board for overcrowded schools

WOODSTOCK – New boundary lines and modular units were recommendations made at a Thursday night School Board meeting to help address growing concerns of overcrowded schools in Shenandoah County.

A combination of two proposed options was the first recommendation given at the meeting by Tracy Richter, CEO and educational facilities planner of DeJong-Richter, and Mike Ross, architect and educational facilities planner for HBA Architecture & Interior Design.

Said Richter, “All of these options have positives and negatives.”

This recommendation is a short-term solution to the current overcrowding at W.W. Robinson Elementary School and Sandy Hook Elementary School, to be implemented prior to the fall of 2016.

Options G and E of the report have been combined to form the recommendation given to the School Board.

Option G involves redrawing attendance boundaries to balance student populations and school capacities, the Short-Term Facilities Planning Study Report explained:

“This recommendation is about improving alignment of student enrollments with building capacities throughout the school division as Sandy Hook Elementary School, W.W. Robinson Elementary School, and Peter Muhlenberg Middle School are all over capacity, and all three schools in the southern cluster are below capacity,” the report stated.

“An added benefit to this solution is that it relieves some of the pressure on core facilities, such as the cafeteria, gymnasium and library, at Sandy Hook and W.W. Robinson,” the report stated.

The report also stated that new boundaries have not been decided yet and that the assessment firms recommend a separate boundary study take place before the boundaries are changed.

Said Richter, “Communication is key.” The community needs to be involved in the redrawing of boundaries, he said, because “moving kids won’t be easy.”

Ross said, “Redrawing of attendance boundaries should not be considered a one-time action or solution, but rather it should be considered a strategy for continuing to balance student population and facility capacity as part of a long-term facilities master plan.”

“It should be noted that this solution option does not, in itself, solve the overcrowding issue at the elementary school level,” Ross added.

Option E helps to solve the elementary school problem by providing two temporary modular classrooms at each of the elementary schools – Sandy Hook, W.W. Robinson and Ashby Lee Elementary.

According to the report, adding two temporary modular classrooms will increase the capacity of each elementary school by 44 students.

Ross said that the total estimated cost range to implement this short-term solution is between $330,000 and $360,000 for the first year, and a recurring cost of $43,200 to $50,000 for each additional year.

The original options considered were:

A: Change grade configurations from PK-5, 6-8, 9-12 to PK-4, 5-7, 8-12.

B: Change grade configurations from PK-5, 6-8, 9-12 to PK-4, 5-8, 9-12.

C: Reduce Pre-K offerings and/or change kindergarten to half-day programs in two-shifts.

D: Increase class sizes for kindergarten through third grade.

E: Provide temporary modular classrooms.

F: Change elementary schools and/or middle schools to a year-round school calendar.

G: Redraw attendance boundaries to balance student populations and school capacities.

The second recommendation provided by Ross and Richter during the presentation was to “commence a long-term facilities planning study to develop a comprehensive facilities and infrastructure plan for the future that will facilitate achievement of the Shenandoah County Public School’s objective of developing ‘schools as 21st century learning centers and cultural hubs for the community.”

The estimated consultant’s fee ranges between $75,000 and $100,000 for the long-term facilities planning study.

Richter added that the community needs to be able to “rotate out of play,” meaning that the community needs a plan that allows residents to transition to a long-term solution down the road.

Ross also recommend considering a year-round school option as part of a long-term solution.

However, he said, year-round schooling is not one of their short-term recommendations because of the amount of research and planning required to implement the option.

Also at Thursday’s meeting:

  • School improvement plans for Shenandoah County Public Schools include Strasburg High School, Central High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School and are expected to be fully accredited. W.W. Robinson is no longer a Title I Focus School; the school reduced failure rates by 10 percent and improved scores in all subjects at each grade level. By the end of the 2015-2016 school year, all elementary school staff will have received yearlong professional development in Guided Reading and integrated learned strategies.
  • The Capital Improvement Plan for 2016-2021 states that the total cost for 2016-2017 projects is $4,381,568, to be distributed for athletics, doors and locks, facility solutions, HVAC, physical education, roofing, security, transportation and other projects. The funds have been distributed based on need.
  • Gene Dykes, supervisor of maintenance, provided the School Board with a report on the failure of two boilers at Central High School that occurred on Oct. 1. These developments have affected the Capital Improvement Plan.
  • David Hinegardner, director of middle and secondary education, and Chad Hensley, director of elementary education, presented bully prevention strategies, which included implementing different programs for all members of the community.
  • Shenandoah County Public Schools and the Shenandoah County Department of Social Services renewed an agreement allowing Seven Bends Student Centers to utilize school facilities for their programs.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com