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Fewer students but still overcrowded in Tahoma
The initial headcount of students in the Tahoma School District this year came in at 7,643 students, down slightly over the May 2013 total of 7,730, with the official state count coming in the beginning of October.
One of the main talking points for the construction bond measure the district will put before voters in November is the state of schools and overcrowding throughout the district.
According to information provided by the district, the size of the district has more than doubled in the past 25 years with successful bond measures in 1988 and 1997 and the district is expecting an additional 1,000 students by 2020.
District spokesman Kevin Patterson said that enrollment this year is at a level district administration expected.
All four of the district’s elementary schools are over the designed capacities which were calculated based on 24 students in every K-5 classroom. The district has compensated by adding portables and converting computer labs and offices into classrooms. Over the summer, Patterson said, computer labs at Glacier Park Elementary and Shadow Lake Elementary were converted to regular classrooms to make room for students.
At the secondary level design capacity was calculated with 29 students in every 6-12 classroom.
At Lake Wilderness Elementary this fall the initial headcount is 1,043 with a design capacity of 852. The school no longer has any empty spaces and closes one of the school libraries for 90 minutes every afternoon for a reading class. Additionally, a storage room is used for small groups each day.
“I think that if you want to look at what really matters it is meeting the needs of all of our students when we have such large numbers in the classroom,” Lake Wilderness Principal Laurel Menard said. “One of the pieces I think about is driving by, the school looks pretty good. The school looks like it is a viable school. But when you dig deeper you see more.”
As an example, Menard said that the school had no heat on Monday morning.
“This morning we don’t have any heat because the boiler is down, but it’s a 1959 boiler,” said Menard on Monday. “It’s just holding together an old school. It has challenges every day.”
Other ways the administration at Lake Wilderness has balanced having so many students is through having six lunches everyday for which they use one of the school gyms. Menard also said that assemblies are held in three shifts to accommodate the students.
Elsewhere in the district, the initial headcount at Shadow Lake Elementary School was 585 students, a school with a design capacity of 504 students. Glacier Park Elementary had an initial count of 936 students, with a designed capacity of 708. Rock Creek Elementary had an initial count of 910, with a design capacity of 708.
Rock Creek staff have also converted a computer lab to a reading classroom, and a science closet is also being used as an intervention room. At Glacier Park the stage is used for an academic support class. At Shadow Lake the PTA room is now used as a special education and intervention room.
The district’s two middle schools are below the design capacities. Tahoma Middle School initially counted 598 students this year with a designed capacity of 735, and Cedar River Middle School had a count of 595 students with a designed capacity of 618.
At Tahoma Junior High the beginning of the year headcount was 1,213 and the school has a designed capacity of 1,155. At the junior high rooms that were teacher offices have been turned into classrooms, a double portable is used as an additional locker room, and the lunchroom doubles as a space for PE classes.
Sean Kelly, the school safety officer for the junior high and the district-wide safety and security coordinator, said that he sees the effect of overcrowding in the amount of pushing in the hallways, the level of anxiety in the building, and in small safety issues. Kelly said that one issue the school had to resolve this year was not having enough chairs in the lunchroom for every student and they had to order an additional 20 chairs.
At Tahoma High School this year the initial headcount was 1,668 students with a designed capacity of 1,467.
The high school has also had to turn a computer lab into a classroom and there are plans to convert a second lab into a classroom as well and the preschool program has been moved offsite and the space was turned into a science classroom.
“I think it becomes a challenge with so many kids, just moving them from place to place,” Menard said. “Moving them from lunch to recess. Moving them from recess back to the classroom. When you come to the school and see all of this you recognize the fact that we have a lot of kids.”