District preps for influx of students | AspenTimes.com

District preps for influx of students

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Just a little over two years ago, the Aspen School District faced an unprecedented decline in student enrollment.

With just 1,271 kids signed up for district classes, the district was forced to cut $52,000 from its 2000 budget.

Enrollment numbers won’t cause a budget shortfall this year – but they may lead to a crunch for class space.

The school district will welcome nearly 1,400 students back to school next week with the openings of its three main schools, district principals reported to the Aspen School Board this week.

Aspen Middle School Principal Phyllis Taylor, who took over the top AMS position in June, told the board Monday evening that she was expecting 430 students this fall. Both the fifth- and eighth-grade classes were full, Taylor said, and English as a Second Language and special education classes were recently closed to out-of-district students.

The growth trend has hit the entire district. Aspen Elementary School is up to 492 students, a 5 percent increase over last year. However, Principal Barb Pitchford said she’ll wait for a “warm body count” once school is in full swing to get an accurate picture on growth in the elementary school.

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“Last year, we were up about 25 [kids] from the year before. This year, we’re up another 25 or so,” she said. “The problem is, those are my numbers now – they’re really not accurate until you get a warm body count the week after Labor Day.

“But we’re definitely blessed with a lot of children this year.”

Even if a post-Labor Day count seems high, Pitchford said AES’ student-pupil ratio is still “relatively low.” The school added a kindergarten teacher in June to combat crowded classes.

“Kindergarten is a little larger than I’d like, maybe by one or two – there are about 18 in a class, and I like 16 or 17 for a healthy student-pupil ratio,” she said.

The biggest jump in district enrollment is at Aspen High School, where officials have predicted a 2002-03 population of 474 students – up from 415 students last year. Out-of-district students are now relegated to a waiting list, AHS Principal Kendall Evans said.

Evans receives calls nearly every day from parents interested in the district, but he has also crossed a few names off his student roster. Like Pitchford, Evans is waiting for a warm-body tally on Aug. 22 before quoting any final numbers.

“Today we had one kid drop and two kids add,” Evans said. “People are still making decisions, so we’re kind of in transition.”

AHS officials are still preparing themselves for big numbers. The school will welcome its largest senior class in history, 118 students, this year. That record could be broken in 2006, since 151 freshmen have enrolled at AHS this year.

“We have a huge freshman class,” Evans said. “I don’t know specifically why that class is so big – it has not traditionally been that large. But just about every other grade is well over 100 [kids].”

Despite the numbers, Evans predicts a smooth year. AHS lost some space due to its $40.9 million renovation and construction project – only the school’s new wing will be open for business next week – but officials have found space for every class through creative scheduling and the use of modular classrooms.

The old AHS couldn’t have accommodated so many students, Evans said.

“We’re going to be fine,” he said. “We’ll have teachers who float until the old school’s renovated and open in December.”

AHS will be able to accommodate its swelling population, Evans said. The only resource in danger would be student storage space.

“We’ve only got 492 lockers. When we get to 492 [students], we’re done,” he laughed.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]

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