FORTVILLE — A jump in enrollment has packed Mt. Vernon High School’s hallways, and district officials are weighing options to alleviate it, including reconfiguring where students attend class.
In 2011, when the district was faced with declining enrollment and decreasing state funding, school board members reluctantly decided to close a district building and redistribute students among its remaining schools. That move added about 300 eighth-graders to the high school, which at the time could accommodate such an influx. But now, as enrollment has begun to bounce back, the high school has exceeded its intended capacity.
The corporation has turned to a research firm to analyze the district’s facilities and determine how to best handle future growth. The company’s analysis will look ahead to the next five years.
The study, which is being conducted by Odle McGuire Shook, an Indianapolis-based company, will be exhaustive, measuring economic activity, county birth rates and demographic trends, officials said. The firm also will survey students and parents to see what suggestions they have to share.
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Shane Robbins, superintendent of Mt. Vernon Community School District, said he anticipates one option will be be a return to the district’s former configuration, with three elementary school buildings for students in kindergarten through fourth grade; an intermediate school for Grades 5 and 6; middle school for Grades 7 and 8; and the high school.
The study is estimated to be complete by early spring, at which time representatives from Odle McGuire Shook will present options for the school board to consider.
And those results can’t come soon enough, said Bernie Campbell, principal of Mt. Vernon High School.
Though the high school students and eighth-graders housed in the building have different class schedules, there are passing periods each day in which the students share the halls, Campbell said. And those passing periods — one in late morning and the other in early afternoon — truly illustrate the need for a change, he said.
“It’s like watching salmon swim upstream,” Campbell said. “It’s just packed.”
Ten years ago, when Teri Anderson, the mother of three Mt. Vernon students, decided to move her family from Lawrence Township to Mt. Vernon, she was looking forward to the smaller class sizes and more personal attention for her children.
Now, with her children — a fourth-grader, a sixth-grader and an 11th-grader — progressing through the growing system, she worries their teachers might be hard-pressed to spend as much one-on-one time with their students.
“One of the things that helps kids succeed in school is being able to receive that personal attention,” Anderson said. “The bigger the class size, the harder it is for teachers to find enough time for each child.”
When the district’s eighth-graders were shifted to the high school in the 2011-12 school year, enrollment was 1,393, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education. That was well within the building’s functional capacity of 1,500 students. But as enrollment has climbed back, it’s now exceeding that number.
Enrollment for Grades 9 through 12 is 1,217, Campbell said. With 295 eighth-graders, the building now houses 1,512 students.
That number is stretching the building’s resources thin, he said. Classrooms are fuller than he’s ever seen, and it’s left him with a degree of uncertainty.
“What we’re doing now is short-term relief,” Campbell said. “If nothing changes soon, we might get to a time not far down the line where we just don’t have the space.”
Robbins agrees that adjustments need to be made but said he doesn’t want to rush into any decisions.
“Whatever we decide to do, this has to be a calculated, well-thought-out process,” Robbins said. “We don’t want to overlook what the financial ramifications of our decisions are.”
Del Jarman, who’s heading up the study for Odle McGuire Shook, said that when the results are packaged for administrators and school board members to examine, the report will lay out several options. He said those possibilities will be priced out, including everything from projected utility costs to a rough timeline of when any renovations will need to be completed.
The firm also will survey staff members from each of the district’s five school buildings to gauge what changes they’d like to see, he added.
“That’s where you can begin to flesh out what improvements could be made at each building,” Jarman said. “You never know what might need to be upgraded.”
Mike McCarty, vice president of the Mt. Vernon school board, said he’s eager to see what needs rise to the top.
“This study really sets the road map for how we start looking at what the future will hold for the corporation,” said McCarty, the father of two Mt. Vernon graduates and a current freshman. “This is a really important time for the district. Now’s the time to make changes to make sure we can sustain this growth.”
Though no decisions will be made until after the study is completed and a committee of community stakeholders weighs in, Robbins said, the goal is to make all changes before the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
“It’s like watching salmon swim upstream. It’s just packed.”
Principal Bernie Campbell, on passing periods at the overcrowded Mt. Vernon High School
Enrollment at Mt. Vernon: