Growing pains

  • Sarah Koenig<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:59am

This is Stephanie Seeck’s fourth year as a Jackson High School student, but the lunchroom surprises her every fall.

“It’s always the first week at school you’re shocked at the lunchroom,” she said. “It seems bigger every year.”

The lunchroom isn’t the only sign that Jackson, at 1,908 students, keeps growing. There’s more competition for classes, room on the stairway and more.

“There’s a building capacity and we are pushing the capacity here,” said Terry Cheshire, Jackson principal.

Thanks to new housing developments, Jackson could get 150 to 300 more students in the next five years, according to Everett School District estimates. Over 3,000 housing units are planned for the next two to five years in the district’s south end.

The district has several options to relieve the pressure, though no plan currently is in place.

Crowded lunch

Jackson has two lunches, which house roughly 800 students apiece. The space was built for hundreds less.

“There are people overflowing the hallways, students (use) hallways to eat, lines are really long, there’s trash in the hallways,” said Andrew Rocco, ASB president.

It’s hard to get a table all your friends can sit at, said Seeck, ASB secretary.

“Sometimes teachers complain about the noise and lunch,” said Jos Preet Gill, ASB treasurer.

To relieve crowding, ASB officers proposed an open lunch policy. Starting this month, students with a 3.0 GPA or higher, less than five unexcused absences in one class, no suspensions and with parent permission can go off campus at lunch.

It remains to be seen how much relief the policy will offer. Only about 180 students qualify, said Cheshire. Grade and behavior checks are in the works.

The school could create a third lunch, meaning some students would have one class period split in half. That’s awful for instruction, Cheshire said.

“I’ve resisted going to a third lunch, but there will come a point where we can’t handle the volumes, so every year we look at it,” he said.

Hallways and stairways

“It’s complete chaos trying to get up the stairs,” said Seeck. “Walking down the hall is fine, but once you get to the busy areas…”

Currently Jackson can handle the volume, Cheshire said.

“Our hallways are crowded, but it’s not like bumper cars,” he said, adding that students can get to class on time and things move along.

“But there’s gonna come a point where it’s too jammed,” Cheshire said.

One future option is to house freshmen in their own section of the school. That’s complicated, since not all classrooms are equipped to be science labs, for example, Cheshire said.

There is no plan to do that currently.

Cheshire has seen other schools get so crowded that students were given more passing time between classes.

“You’re sacrificing passing time for instructional time, which is a hard one to give up,” Cheshire said. “Do you extend the school day and add those passing times on?”

Scheduling

Competition for classes also has increased, Cheshire said.

“Spanish is the most difficult class,” he said. “A large number of freshmen wanted Spanish this year and we can’t give it.”

There are kids who registered last April, came to school in the fall and wanted to change classes, but couldn’t, said Gill, the ASB treasurer.

Scheduling was more complicated this year because about 100 students new to the district walked in between August and September, Cheshire said. Enrollment can be hard to predict.

The school has four counselors plus a half-time counselor, at a ratio of one counselor for 425 students, per district limits. The half-time counselor was hired this year to accommodate the added students.

Corri Brooks, who has two children at Jackson, has seen them struggle to make contact with their counselor.

“It took my son three weeks, going almost every day, to see the counselor,” she said.

Another student who stayed at her home for two months dropped out of school because he had trouble getting into a class he needed to graduate, Brooks said. The student is finishing school at a community college, she added.

Cheshire said he knew of no case where seniors didn’t get classes they need to graduate. Priority is given to them, which is why freshman can have a harder time getting classes they want, he said.

“If a kid has never registered for a class and comes in and says, ‘I never took (the class),’ to me that’s another issue,” Cheshire said. “The class could have been filled.”

The size of the school is not the reason behind counselor ratio, Cheshire said.

“When I was at Kentridge (High School) we had four counselors and 1,700 kids,” Cheshire said. “It’s not great, but it’s not uncommon in a public high school.”

Next year, the counselor/

student ratio will drop to 1 per 400, he said.

While some districts are comparable with Everett, other districts have a lower counselor ratio. The Edmonds School District has 310 to 370 students per counselor in high schools. The Shoreline School District has 350 students per counselor.

Teachers without a home base

Another impact of growth at Jackson is that some teachers must change rooms between periods.

“That’s the challenge with being really crowded, you don’t have a place for teachers to land,” Cheshire said.

On their planning period, some teachers can’t access their classrooms.

“It’s very difficult for a teacher to change rooms a number of times,” Cheshire said.

Dealing with the situation

Despite the impacts of growth, the three ASB officers said that students don’t talk or complain about the situation much.

“We get used to it,” Gill said. “Every year it’s a little more.”

“There are a couple of problems, but overall things are good,” Rocco said.

Getting students involved in school and activities can be a challenge, but smaller schools don’t necessarily have more spirit, Seeck said.

“Our school is growing and creating more tradition,” she said.

Future plans

Jackson is expected to grow by 30 to 50 students next year, Cheshire said.

District officials will project enrollment and decide how to handle the numbers, he said.

“We do not yet have a specific plan on how to deal with the growth at Jackson, but we are tracking the growth and will respond in a manner that will provide students classrooms,” said Mike Gunn, director of facilities and planning for the district.

There’s no plan right now to build a new high school.

When faced with growth, the district reacts initially with adding portable classrooms, Gunn said. Portables on the Heatherwood Middle School campus now sitting empty could be used by Jackson students, he said.

If it looks like growth will be sustained and portables outgrown, the district looks at other options, like closing the school to variances, building an addition to the school, using the existing space more efficiently or boundary changes, Gunn said.