Opening of Mona Jain Middle School lightens the enrollment load on area middle schools.
Haile Middle School teacher Wendi Chalmers will be grateful for a little more elbow room when the School District of Manatee County school year begins Aug. 12.
Last year, the desks in her classroom — a former resource room — were so close together that she could barely walk between them. The room would fit 11 to 15 desks comfortably, but it had 24. So many desks were stuffed into the room that Chalmers’
own desk could barely be accommodated.
Thanks to the opening of Mona Jain Middle School in Lakewood Ranch, school enrollment at Haile for the 2019-20 school year will drop by 300 students, from 1,173 to 879. That puts the school under its capacity of about 950 for the first time in more than two years.
“After getting over the initial shock, we are super excited to have fewer students on campus,” Haile Principal Kate Barlaug said. “From a supervision standpoint, it’s important. It’s providing for us to have a few less kids in each classroom. Even one or two makes a difference.”
When Mona Jain Middle opens, it will have at least 637 students by taking students away from Haile, R. Dan Nolan and Braden River middle schools.
Don Sauer, the director of student demographics, projects and assignment for the School District of Manatee County, said the district has anticipated about 600 students will attend Mona Jain in its inaugural year, which will have sixth through eighth grades.
“Mona Jain is having a big impact,” Sauer said.“That hit the mark.”
However, Sauer said that even with a 150-student reduction, Nolan Middle still will be about 54 students over capacity at a projected 978 students. Sauer said that situation will change over the next two years as more students enroll at Mona Jain and as the district controls enrollment through school choice.
Nolan Principal Scot Boice said the reduction at Nolan will allow the school to eliminate its five portables as classrooms, though the structures will remain on-site and be used for storage and special-purpose classes. Moving teachers and students to the main building, he said, will create a safer environment for teachers and students.
“My biggest concern has been children walking to and from the portables,” Boice said. “We want our children safe. This way, they stay inside our building during [class] transitions.”
Eliminating portables will also shorten some students’ walk between classes and prevent students from having to get wet when walking to portables during rain, Boice said.
At Braden River Middle, numbers also dropped from 1,073 to 940, going from 22 seats under capacity to 155 under capacity.
“With a district that allows choice and hardships, that opens up seats for kids to go there,” Sauer said.
In middle school, class sizes are capped by state law at an average of 22 campus wide.
Barlaug said Haile’s campus is large, so even with more than 1,100 students on campus, it did not feel cramped, but the changes will help with simple things, such as giving children more space to spread out at lunchtime and making it easier for teachers to monitor hallways between classes.
“You go from being one of the largest middle schools in the district to an average size,” said Barlaug, who started there as an assistant principal in 2013 with student populations hovering around 1,000. “We’ll be really in-tune with the students and be able to give them what they need.”
Chalmers previously taught in Missouri for 18 years in a rural community. Each class had up to 15 children, and the lower teacher-to-student ratios make a big difference.
“The benefit is a lot more one-on-one attention between the teacher and the student,” she said. “It affords us the opportunity to do a lot of activities. It fosters more connections between the teacher and student when you have a little more time. It’s just not possible in big classes. I think it’s going to be great all the way around.”
At the high school level, student enrollment is projected to stay almost even with 12,241 students in 2018-19 and 12,277 in 2019-20 districtwide.
“People say, ‘You’re busting at the seams,’” Sauer said. “You can see we’re right where we were last year.”
The new Parrish Community High School is expected to have 485 children from drawing students away from Palmetto, Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high schools.
From Lakewood Ranch High, 118 students previously zoned for Lakewood Ranch High will attend the new high school. Sauer said another 83 students elected to stay with their existing school while 31 incoming freshmen zoned for Parrish Community High were allowed to enroll at Lakewood Ranch High because they had siblings attending there.
Lakewood Ranch High’s enrollment is expected to be 2,408 high school students, compared with 2,356 last year. Lakewood Ranch’s capacity is 1,799.