Numbers climb at Smithfield High School

Published 2:02 pm Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thornton says more teachers are needed

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

An additional 73 students have shown up at Smithfield High School this year so far, and the increase may exceed 100 as additional students show up.

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The increase prompted Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton to call for the hiring of seven more teachers at the school.

Thornton cited crowded classrooms with 30 or more students as a reason for the new hires, which would ease the burden on current teachers at the school.

Thornton announced at the School Board meeting Thursday, Sept. 14, that the division could afford hiring three of the seven teachers it required using additional state funds allotted for an increase in the division’s size. The teacher salaries, including benefits, would amount to $68,680 each, according to Thornton. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Thornton said the division can make cuts and transfer funds from its administration and health budget to fund a fourth teacher.

As for the three other teachers Thornton said the high school needs, the School Board agreed that the division would approach the Board of Supervisors to request $206,040 in unspent carryover funds from the 2016-17 school year that the division returned.

“If they have the money, I don’t know, but I think it’s our duty to ask and see where we land and do the best we can,” Thornton said at the meeting.

Though Smithfield High School’s population has increased by 73 so far compared to last year, 103 students are totally new to the high school this year, three having enrolled from home school, 13 from private schools and 87 from another division or new to the county, according to Thornton.

While there is a bubble of 103 new students at Smithfield High School, 30 students enrolled in the division last year and expected to attend have yet to show up for school, according to Thornton.

“They could still show up,” said Thornton of the 30 students still unaccounted for. “Maybe some of them have withdrawn, but some are still what we call ‘no-shows,’ so we could have more than the 73 that we’re already over at the high school.”

Of the 73 more students than last year at Smithfield High School, over half of them, 38, are in the ninth grade, Thornton said.

While the school has typically had class sizes in the 25-29 range, the sudden increase has brought many classrooms at the school into the low to mid 30s, according to Thornton.

Thornton said the division will attempt to hire teachers for English, earth science, history, Spanish, physical education and two math teachers for Smithfield High.

“This will bring us back to a more manageable number,” he said regarding class sizes, noting that multiple classes with 30 or more students can be a heavy burden on teachers.

As of Monday, the division had advertised for teaching positions for English, mathematics, earth science and history on its website.

Asked by Newport District School Board member Vicky Hulick about capacity, Thornton said that the school will have to have some “floating teachers” using different classrooms this year, but that the Career Building behind the school, scheduled for a renovation, will open up another seven classrooms at the school by August 2018.

As of Sept. 13, the division overall has increased by 55 students compared to last year, from 5,280 to 5,335, according to Thornton.

Such an increase would not be a problem if it was spread out through the grades, Thornton said, but as it is, the distribution is awkward.

As Smithfield High jumped up by 73 students, Windsor High School also saw an increase of 37 students, 24 of them in just the ninth grade. Thornton said Windsor High could probably also use additional staff, but the situation was not as dire as it currently is at Smithfield.

“We can’t fix everything at once,” he said.

Smithfield Middle School has decreased by 16 students and Georgie D. Tyler Middle School increased by seven. Carrollton has three additional students and Carrsville grew by 10.

Hardy, Westside and Windsor elementary schools all declined in enrollment, Hardy by 15, Westside by five and Windsor by 39 students.

Thornton speculated that the membership bump in the high schools could be due to interest in the new Career and Technical Education courses being implemented by the division.

“So maybe we’re doing something right,” said Thornton. “But we might want to slow down a bit,” he chuckled.

Virginia Standards of Quality laws put a cap of 29 students in kindergarten and elementary classes and requires a 24-to-1 student/teacher ratio.

Many middle and high school classes do not have caps, however, and Thornton said that, should the division continue to grow, class size restrictions might be a discussion the division should bring to parents.

Thornton said the division is compiling the addresses of the 87 SHS students who came from out of the county to determine if there is one location they are mostly emanating from, such as the developments at Benn’s Grant, Cypress Creek or elsewhere.

“This doesn’t normally happen,” he said of the concentrated growth. “This hasn’t happened.”

Last year, Smithfield High School’s fall membership declined from 1,253 to 1,215, according to the state’s website. The school’s population had fallen by 38 at the beginning of the 2015 school year as well.

Thornton said he anticipates more stable membership numbers by Sept. 30.  {/mprestriction}