Parents, school officials discuss plan to address overcrowding

Mark Johnston

QUICKSBURG – School administrators met with parents and concerned citizens Tuesday evening at North Fork Middle School to answer questions and discuss a plan to reconfigure grade levels to address overcrowding.

Division leaders would like to reconfigure grade levels for Ashby Lee Elementary, North Folk Middle and Stonewall Jackson High School.

Superintendent Mark Johnston, as a way to plan for next year’s operations, proposes moving Ashby Lee’s fifth-grade class to North Fork Middle School and North Fork’s eighth-grade class to Stonewall Jackson High School. This will make Ashby Lee a pre-K to grade four school, North Fork a grade five to seven school and Stonewall Jackson a grade eight to 12 school, which it was previously, Johnston said.

One parent at the meeting asked if the reconfiguration was a done deal.

Whether the plan will be adopted depends on whether the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors approves the division’s submitted budget at Thursday’s meeting. If the money is approved, then the division will move forward, Johnston said

The proposed move comes as Ashby Lee was unexpectedly impacted by more than 50 new arrivals, pushing its total enrollment to 802 students.

The increase puts Ashby Lee at 106.9 percent of its official 750 student capacity. The transfer of the class would then drop Ashby Lee enrollment to a projected 654 students, or 87.2 percent capacity.

North Fork Middle School would see its student population increase from 339 students to a projected 363 students, or 81.4 percent. Stonewall Jackson would see a student increase from 511 students to a projected 628, making it 79.2 percent of student capacity.

Teresa Shifflett, a teacher in Rockingham County who has children in the Shenandoah County Public Schools, asked if the division had long-term plans to deal with long-term overcrowding.

Johnston spoke of the long-term facilities study conducted three years ago that calls for five elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools. The long-term plan has yet to be adopted by the School Board.

“We are going to have to create capacity,” Johnston said, not committing to building new schools but acknowledging shifting of grades is not a long-term solution and would not work in the northern or central campuses.

Shifflett’s daughter would like to continue her study to become a doctor in the future so she asked about how the science labs would work if eighth grade classrooms would be in that wing.

Johnston affirmed that is where eighth grade classrooms would be but they would not be housed in the science labs.

Johnston, along with school principals, reassured parents that eighth-graders would be kept in their own classrooms, which would be found in the science wing, essentially creating a school within a school.

Johnston spoke of the educational benefits of the move.

Eighth-graders moving there as part of the reconfiguration would be able to transition to the high school sooner, putting them in a better position to meet those new requirements. They can take advantage of the opportunities there, such as earning college credit and access to high school elective options, to go to college and be career ready, he said.

Moving grade five to the middle school would allow those students access to elective course offerings, Johnston said.

Another parent meeting will be held at 6 p.m. today at Ashby Lee Elementary School.