Oak Ridge Schools tackles student population growth in Linden

Oak Ridge Schools has contracted a consultant to explore ways to accommodate the growing student population, including the possibility of building a new school.

The contract is for $5,000 a month plus out-of-pocket expenses, according to a note from Allen Thacker, the school system’s maintenance and operations supervisor. The memo was included on the agenda for the Oak Ridge School Board’s August meeting.

The company, Cornerstone Project Management LLC, will provide advice to the school system, “including developing a plan for a possible future new school, central offices, and other necessary school improvements or expansions,” Thacker said in the memo. “This work responds to anticipated future enrollment growth and program needs throughout the district.”

Vice President Laura McLean works on a laptop during an Oak Ridge School Board meeting.

Oak Ridge School Board member Laura McLean offered to hire the consultant and fellow school board member Benjamin Stephens seconded. It passed unanimously.

Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent of Schools Bruce Borchers said at the Aug. 1 meeting that the board will monitor new housing and growth “on a regular basis,” looking at what the school system can do to respond. on demand. He said the consultant will meet monthly on the matter.

“We want to make sure we’re ahead of the game before too many new students join us,” he told the Board of Education.

Current enrollment at Oak Ridge Schools

As of Sept. 2, the city’s eight schools had 108 more students than at the end of last school year, according to a document provided by Bruce Lay, executive director of the system’s schools branch.

Changes in student population since the end of last school year ranged from 12 fewer at Jefferson Middle School to 116 more at Oak Ridge High School. The reporting period is made up of 20 school days, he explained in an email last week.

“Our student enrollment is consistent with the enrollment projections that were provided over the past school year,” Lay said. “We are currently using available data to determine potential student growth over the next five to 10 years so that we can take the necessary steps to prepare.”

Two years ago, Cope Architecture presented the school board with the results of a study on the growth of the city and its effects on schools. Linden Elementary School on the west end of Oak Ridge was the biggest concern.

Although the last reporting period showed ORHS leading in growth, Linden had the highest number among the four elementary schools.

The Tennessee Department of Education requires a lower teacher-student ratio for elementary grades than for high school grades.

“Linden has been our biggest challenge because of the required teacher-student ratios,” Lay said. “K-3 classes must maintain a teacher-to-student ratio of 1 to 20. We are currently compliant with a class average of 19.24 K-3s.”

Linden’s student population is 92, 101, 103, 117, and 124 for kindergarten through fourth grade, respectively. The population of Glenwood Elementary, as of the latest reporting period, is 76, 71, 59, 76, and 74 for K-4, respectively. At Willow Brook Elementary, the numbers are 67, 89, 77, 76, and 72. And at Woodland Elementary, the K-4 population, respectively, is 72, 98, 83, 89, and 79.

Need more schools in Oak Ridge?

Oak Ridge Schools Career Readiness and Communications Supervisor Holly Cross spoke about this potential growth with the Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission earlier this year and shared statistics with The Oak Ridger.

Each grade level in Oak Ridge schools, she said in March, had about 400 students, counting the students in that grade in each school.

With four elementary schools, the school system has about 100 students per grade level per individual school.

“By this logic, if we were to have population growth that increased our student population by 100 students per grade level, we would definitely need one more elementary school.

“If that number doubled, we would need two elementary schools and a middle school. At this point, we would also need to consider options for expansion and an additional secondary school,” she said. “Of course, we would also need to consider staffing needs for all school positions to support additional schools. I used a class size of 25 as an example for expanding teaching staffing needs.”

The Cope Architecture study presented to the school board two years ago cited population growth at The Preserve, Harbor Pointe, Main Street Lofts, Groves Park Commons and Forest Creek Village.

If the school districts remain as they are, Willow Brook Elementary would serve Main Street Lofts, Woodland Elementary would serve Harbor Pointe, and Linden Elementary would serve the remainder.

This file photo shows students from Linden Elementary School raising their hands during an activity regarding water pollution at AK Bissell Park.  Growth at the west end of Oak Ridge could mean changes for the future of Linden Elementary School.

Long-term solutions for Linden could include adding more classrooms, dividing Linden into two schools, or building a new Linden School and expanding the current school and moving Willow Brook into this building.

Short-term solutions include reallocating other spaces to classrooms or reallocating students to Willow Brook.

A study suggested that a new school or redistricting may be required in the future due to new residential developments on the west end of town.  Linden is experiencing the fastest growth of the city's four elementary schools.

While Linden was Cope’s main concern, the study said most schools will likely exceed capacity by 2030, with the exception of Glenwood Elementary.

The study looked at options for the entire school system, including redistricting, reallocating space, building new schools, adding or renovating school buildings, and moving schools.

This story updated a story compiled and written by Benjamin Pounds. Contact Oak Ridger Managing Editor Donna Smith at [email protected] or by phone at (865) 220-5514. Follow her on Twitter @ridgernewsed.