Record enrollment puts squeeze on classroom space

CBCS elementary school added most students

by Olivia Lueckemeyer

With enrollment in the RE1J school district at a record high this year, certain sites are tasked with accommodating new growth. Nowhere is more affected than the Crested Butte Community School, which experienced an addition of 42 new students this year.

District-wide, reported total enrollment for the 2015-2016 school year sits at 1,992. Those 689 students attending CBCS make up about 35 percent of the district’s total student population. Elementary school principal Sally Hensley said the growth is due to a recent pattern of large kindergarten classes, which are now beginning to spill into the middle and high school.

“It is not necessarily an increase, but a shift of everybody moving up,” Hensley said.

The elementary school had the biggest addition of new students this year, with a total of 23, while the secondary school added another 19 students to its population. The increase prompted the need for certain grade levels to be split into three classrooms instead of two.

Secondary school principal Stephanie Niemi said, for the sixth and ninth grade classes, the decision to create three classrooms was made to ease the move from one level of schooling to the next.

“The transition from fifth to sixth grade is really hard,” Niemi said. “I could have divided that grade into two very large classes, but I purposefully divided it into three so that it could help the students transition into middle school.”

State funding for “full-time equivalent” (FTE) students has not been finalized, but business manager Stephanie Juneau projects the per-pupil revenue for CBCS’s estimated 662 FTE students will be about $7,248, instead of last year’s $6,990. School finance funding is estimated to be around $4.8 million, compared to last year’s $4.3 million.

Since the community school opened in 1997, its student population has grown 56 percent. For the first time ever, this year the high school population exceeds that of middle school. This is a reflection of incoming classes growing in size and eventually moving into the secondary school. The effect on the facility is now evident in the lack of classroom space.

“It is great to make sure that every teacher has a classroom, but that is not our reality with the increase in enrollment,” Niemi said. “To be continued, but as of now it is official that we are out of secondary classrooms.”

For those few teachers who do not have classrooms, Niemi’s temporary solution is to utilize empty rooms while other teachers are on their planning periods. Unfortunately, there is also a lack of office space, meaning that teachers must find quiet spaces around the facility to do their planning.

“The challenge is that when those teachers are displaced out of their classroom for planning, where do they go?” Niemi said. “Right now they are working in the staff room and the conference room, just trying to find any place available.”

When it comes to using the minimal space available, Hensley applauds Niemi for her creativity. However, as the upward trend in enrollment continues, both administrators feel a sense of urgency to consider the facility’s future.

“For many years Stephanie has found nooks and crannies in the building and turned small closets into classrooms and planning areas,” Hensley said. “But as these big classes keep moving into the secondary school, it puts a lot of pressure on us.”

As of now, every square inch of CBCS is being put to use. According to Niemi, a commitment to reasonable class sizes is of the utmost importance, so conversations about the need for additional space are on the table, albeit in the initial phase.

“If we continue on this path of growth, it will have to be addressed in the near future,” Niemi said. “I don’t know exactly what that would look like, but we would definitely need to create more classroom space. That’s a big conversation and there are already options being tossed around.”

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