School squeezes every square inch Proposed remedies jostle for attention

March 03, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Carissa Baker's Latin classroom is a square box -- a small square box at that.

"My teacher stands in front of the room and he never moves because it's so crowded," said the Centennial High School senior of the school's crowding.

"You really see it when you walk to your classes," she said. "There's this one particular hallway, and it's chaos. It's one little intersection, and it's a mess."

Centennial holds about 200 students more than it should, according to school officials, who project the problem to become much worse in coming years. To ease the crowding, officials propose a redistricting plan for 1994 that would send more students to Wilde Lake High School and fewer to Centennial. Tomorrow night,the school board will hold a public work session and next Tuesday and Wednesday, it will hold public hearings on the plan.

"There are traffic jams," said Linda Blakeslee, a social studies teacher. "You get hit by backpacks. You get angry. You know the students don't mean it, but you get angry."

There's just not enough space at Centennial -- not during lunches in the cafeteria and especially not during assemblies in the auditorium or pep rallies in the gym.

"It's packed, packed, capacity packed," said Principal Sylvia Pattillo.

This year, administrators added four portable classrooms to accommodate the extra students. Next year, they'll add four more. But "relocatables" aren't the answer, Ms. Pattillo said.

"You can put 20 relocatables outside, but I still have the same cafeteria, the same auditorium, the same gymnasium."

What school administrators are doing now is scheduling assemblies twice and limiting attendance at certain events such as homecoming. Students have to get on a waiting list for tickets to the dance in the gym, which holds about 850 students.

"If every possible kid wanted to bring dates, they can't. There's no possible way," said Ms. Pattillo. Some students have even tried to scalp their tickets in previous years, she said.

Other than building an addition to the school and increasing staff members -- ideas that school administrators have just started debating -- shifting boundary lines is the only alternative. School officials recommend delaying any changes to Centennial's boundaries for a year. Under a staff proposal, students now in middle school in the Hobbit's Glen, Longfellow and Beaverbrook communities would go to Wilde Lake in the fall of 1994. That same year, students in Dorsey Hall would be shifted to the new western high school in Clarksville.

Redistricting is not restricted to Centennial: Enrollment in high schools across the county is expected to jump 49 percent -- or by about 4,000 students -- by the year 1999. More redistricting is expected in 1996, when two new high schools open. Each of the eight existing high schools would be a target.

Meanwhile, parents in Dorsey Hall as well as Longfellow, Hobbit's Glen and Beaverbrook are compiling statistics and figuring out logistics to persuade board members to adopt alternative plans.

Some parents plan to protest redistricting as inequitable, saying the move would do nothing to redress differences in test scores between Centennial and Wilde Lake. Wilde Lake has lower average Scholastic Aptitude Test and state achievement test results than Centennial. Other parents say that taking their communities out of Centennial would likewise take away any TC diversity the school has.

Something must be done -- class sizes are too big, some students said. Although average class sizes in the county hover around 24 students, some classes -- social studies and English, for example -- have as many as 34 students.

Some electives are even more crowded, said Rahman Harrison, president of the Student Government Association. "You're talking classes that are 38-plus," he said. "Unless you're in the gifted and talented track, your classes will probably be large. It's becoming an overburden on teachers."

Teachers say it's difficult to do their jobs because they have to share materials.

Others, like Taraneh Taheri, who teach in portable classrooms, must make arrangements with teachers to use their classrooms to show movies or videos. "You can't roll TVs or VCRs into the portable classroom," she said.

Teachers have to share classrooms, so when they take time off to plan curriculum, they have to meet in shared offices where it's not as quiet or convenient.

"There's never ever an empty room," said Nancy Jones, who shares a classroom with social studies teacher Rod McCauslin.

Some teachers joke about being rats trapped in small places.

"There's heightened tension," said Ms. Blakeslee, a nine-year Centennial teacher. "I believe overcrowding is a factor."

But "everyone's so cooperative," she said. "There are only some who are territorial."

There is a silver lining to the crowding cloud, teachers and administrators say.

"It allows you greater flexibility in terms of the number of courses and the types of course selections," said Mr. Davis. "There are positives and negatives to everything."

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