As growth in the Olentangy Local School District continues and shows no signs of slowing, the Olentangy Board of Education is working to stay on top of concerns regarding the number of students in each of the district’s school buildings. At Thursday’s board meeting, Chief Academic Officer Jack Fette presented an update on where capacities stand now, and what they are projecting for years to come.
Fette highlighted some of the moves the district has already made to accommodate the increasing enrollment. The relocation of the Olentangy Administration Offices, renovation of the previous location to add 12 preschool classrooms, opening Berlin High School, planning a preschool room at the Delaware Area Career Center, and the additions made to three existing elementary schools were all actions Fette pointed to that have helped the cause.
Superintendent Mark Raiff said the addition of 12 preschool classrooms at Shanahan Elementary and 18 classrooms between three other elementary schools gives the district 30 more classrooms — the equivalent of a 16th elementary school in the district — without having to take on the operating costs of a new building.
Raiff said getting creative with existing buildings is a must, noting the last elementary school the district opened was Heritage Elementary for the 2011-12 school year. Since Heritage Elementary opened, the district has added 1,000 elementary students.
The Facilities Committee for OLSD sets benchmarks for building capacities at each level in the school district. At the high school level, Fette said the first benchmark — where the school district feels most comfortable — is at 7,200 students combined, or 1,8oo per high school.
Currently, the 2019-20 school year has a projected total of 6,828 students in OLSD high schools, allowing for an additional 372 students to come into the district before the first benchmark is reached. The second benchmark, Fette said, is maximum capacity for any of the four high schools. That mark is set at 8,800 total students — or 2,200 per school — and allows for an additional 1,972 students based on current enrollment.
However, according to the district’s current projections, the first benchmark will be exceeded by over 100 students in the 2025-26 school year. By 2028-29, the total number of high school students exceeds their optimal totals by 704 students.
But while there will be solutions needed down the road to accommodate the high schools, the district’s biggest capacity issues lie at the middle school level. Next year’s projection shows the middle schools to already exceed the district’s first benchmark, which is 1,000 students per middle school.
The max-capacity benchmark, set at 1,050-1,175 students, is projected to be exceeded by 117 students in the 2024-25 school year.
Among the options Fette said can be considered to better maximize the capacity of middle schools is to shift from the current middle school model to a junior high model. Fette said the switch would include moving away from the “team-based” model middle schools currently operate under, where students are grouped with the same students throughout. He said a junior high model structures a student’s school day more like a high school, with elective classes including students of different grades.
Asked what the downsides to that shift would be, Fette said research on the middle school is “weak, at best,” but did say the middle school better allows for the development of special programs and relationships. In terms of academic performance, Fette said there wouldn’t be any dropoff if the district were to shift to a junior high model.
He added the district is currently staffed for the middle school model, meaning 23 language arts, math, science, and social studies teachers would be under assigned in a junior high model. Twenty-two additional unified arts would also need to be hired.
Other options suggested were adding modular classrooms or building additions, as well as lengthening the school day and providing split sessions based on grade levels.
At the elementary level, Fette said the Facilities Committee believes it is better to consider capacity concerns by classrooms rather than students. The lone benchmark for elementary classrooms is 468 classrooms. Projections for the 2019-20 school year show the ability to add 19 classrooms, but in 2021-22 there will be a shortage of five classrooms. By 2028-29, that shortage rises significantly to 79 classrooms.
Solutions brought forward at the elementary level are promoting itinerant preschool options, which Fette said the district has been doing for several years now, as well as increasing the K-2 class to the contractual limit and combining or “looping” grade levels to eliminate chances for small class sizes and maximize classroom space.