When six of the Manhattan-Ogden school district’s principals spoke to the school board Wednesday, a common concern was both a lack of classroom space and packed classrooms.
Principals from Eisenhower and Anthony middle schools, Manhattan High, and Frank Bergman, Amanda Arnold and Northview elementaries presented their annual site council reports at the board’s meeting Wednesday. They discussed their building demographics, diversity and inclusion efforts, strategic plan successes, attendance rates, school initiatives and building challenges.
The board told the principals that they would tackle redistricting this coming year.
“We cannot leave those boundaries the same,” assistant superintendent Eric Reid said. “We can’t. We physically can’t, otherwise we will be in the same spot.”
Several of the schools have seen significant enrollment jumps in the past few years, particularly in both middle schools and Amanda Arnold. That’s led to what they say are packed classrooms where class sizes range in the upper 20s, as well as a shortage of class spaces.
Elective classes like music, art, and specialized science, technology, engineering and math courses no longer have dedicated spaces, and instead, their teachers move from classroom to classroom with supplies on carts.
At the middle schools, student populations have increased by nearly 72 students to a combined enrollment of 975, or 8% increase in the past two years.
Vickie Kline, principal at Anthony, said the school district had anticipated the packed class sizes at both middle schools, but assistant superintendent Eric Reid worked with both her and Eisenhower principal Tracy Newell back in March to balance the classes and make sure that neither school was disproportionately crowded. However, that meant forcing some students who would have gone to Eisenhower over to Anthony.
“That was tough for some of the families, because they had been there,” Kline said. “But for some of the families who had the opportunity to change, they started to say that they were going to stay and they were enjoying and liking (their new school).”
Kline and Newell said that enrollment increases are the schools’ main challenges, and while a new counselor and PE teacher shared by the schools have helped, they are proposing to make those positions permanent full-time positions at each school, bringing student-to-counselor ratios down to 250:1 and the average PE class size down to 24 from 28 students.
With the expected completion of construction projects and added sixth-grade classrooms at the middle schools during the 2021-22 school year, the principals are also proposing additional elective teachers and an additional counselor and assistant principal at each school, in addition to new full-time school psychologists at each school and a school resource officer to be split between the two schools.
Manhattan High principal Michael Dorst said now that the school has two counselors per grade level, the school has been better positioned to respond to each student’s social-emotional needs.
“Watching our counselors over the past few years, they’re tackling massive issues while dealing with academics, social-emotional needs, getting students ready for post-secondary,” Dorst said. “It’s hard. Having two comprehensive counselors and adopting the model we have at West Campus and the freshman center has been good.”
Dorst said the school’s graduation rate, when looking solely at the West Campus and not the combined statistic that includes Manhattan Virtual Academy and Job Corps, is about 90%. While the school’s goal is to bring that up to 95% in the next few years, he wants to make sure the district looks beyond the graduation rate in measuring its success.
“Graduation rate is not an endgame,” Dorst said. “It’s a snapshot — it’s a moment of time where you’re saying that these kids are ready for the next step.”
He said the school would continue to focus on career and technical education, especially through partnerships with Manhattan Area Technical College and the business community.
The school also will pilot a program next semester using the district’s Digital Learning Lab to offer additional education support for students after school.
At Bergman, first-year principal Stephen Koch said he’s dealt with relatively large populations of English for Speakers of Other Languages and low socio-economic students. As a former Title I and at-risk teacher, Koch said he’s enjoyed the opportunity to work in an environment with so many students from those backgrounds.
Like the middle school principals, Koch said his main challenge at Bergman is space, and while the school’s bond issue project to add classroom space will help, he’s not sure if it will be the “cure-all.” The school’s occupational, physical and speech therapy teachers work with their students in the hallways because of a lack of space.
“That’s great for the student population to see, because that’s life, and you’re going to run across several people with all sorts of abilities and disabilities and the like, and it’s a beautiful place for these kids to be,” Koch said.
However, Koch said working out of the hallways is not conducive to those students’ learning and even distracts them from focusing on their activities, and he wants to make sure they have spaces so that they’re not interrupted during their learning, especially when their disability might be being easily distracted.
Amanda Arnold principal Kathy Stitt said tardiness has been a concern at her school, and her staff has focused on communicating to parents why tardies are so disruptive to not only the classroom but each child’s learning. She said the school’s early efforts on that front have largely worked, and the school has implemented silent mentoring, where designated adults who aren’t a student’s classroom teacher check in with students on a weekly basis.
Through the district’s autism program, the school’s students in the program also do community-based learning every Friday, where they visit local businesses to learn how to act in various public settings while exploring career choices.
Much like the other schools, Stitt said the school has lost many of its designated spaces for elective classes, and in one classroom, a special education teacher and English for Speakers of Other Language teacher share the same room.
“It works, we whisper,” Stitt said. “I don’t know how we do it, but we do.”
Elective teachers rotate through the building carrying their supplies on carts, Stitt said, and the cafeteria has doubled as a gym at certain times.
“I think I’ll have to put our one music teacher on a cart, so we will lose our music room,” she said. “We’ve already lost our art room, and that is so difficult. When I look at our art teacher teaching 25 sections on a cart and preparing for K-6, she’s the sweetest thing, but you ought to see her running around the building.”
Northview principal Cleion Morton said her school, like others in the district, has dealt with a high student mobility rate, which refers to the yearly turnover in students who leave the school. She said that Northview, with a mobility rate of 13.4%, has taken on a relatively high amount of forced transfer students from other schools, but that doesn’t mean that the school has been empty.
“I don’t want to say that we have space, because we are packed and every crevice is used, but we haven’t reached (as high a number) in our class sizes,” Morton said. “I do want you to know that every student we’ve taken as a forced transfer, minus one, has been on an (individualized education program) or has come to us with some challenges, and that’s hard.”
In addressing student’s social-emotional needs, the school’s staffers have focused on making sure that each student has at least one positive adult connection at the school, Morton said.
“Many of our students will never raise their test scores, we won’t see that growth, until we take care of the trauma that they face on a day-to-day basis,” Morton said.
District administrators told the board that upcoming bond construction projects, in addition to moving the sixth-grade classes to the middle schools, should help address the overcrowding concerns.
The district’s other schools will present their site council reports in January.