Warren County Middle School is dealing with an overpopulation problem.
The middle school has reached an all-time high when it comes to student enrollment, forcing teachers to endure large class sizes and hampering their ability to provide individual attention.
As a result, WCMS principal Gerald Tidwell says the school will be enforcing its school zone beginning next school year. Incoming students who want to attend WCMS will have to be zoned for the middle school. Otherwise they will have to attend the school for which they are zoned, Tidwell says.
“We all love the school environment here, but we can’t take everybody who wants to come,” said Tidwell. “I realize our school has a lot of programs and kids want to come here, but I don’t think we’re being fair to our teachers or our students to have class sizes this large. And really it’s not fair to the kids wanting to come here to be tossed in a class with 30 other kids when they could have stayed at their own school and been in a class with 18. If you’re in the Morrison zone, you’re going to have to go to Morrison. In the past we haven’t done that.”
The Warren County School System has been operating under a policy that allows students to attend schools they aren’t zoned for – provided the school principal and director of schools agree. However, Tidwell points to WCMS enrollment as the reason for stopping that open-door policy.
“We had over 925 students at one point this year,” said Tidwell. “We really need that number to be in the 825 to 850 range. That’s our target goal.”
Tidwell said the average sixth-grade class size at WCMS is 22 students. He said the state sets the sixth-grade ratio at 25 per class.
While WCMS is within guidelines for sixth grade, that’s not the case for seventh and eighth grade classes. In those grades, the state guidelines say no more than 30 students per class and WCMS is averaging 30.5. Tidwell said there are some classes with 34 students, which makes it extremely difficult for the teacher to be effective.
“In this day of school accountability and teacher accountability, it makes it tough with 34 kids,” said Tidwell.
Added WCMS instructional coordinator Farrah Griffith, “With 34 kids crammed into one classroom, there is no place to go.”
WCMS is popular because it offers more advanced classes and more extracurricular activities than outlying schools. WCMS also has a band program and sports teams not offered at other schools such as soccer, volleyball and baseball.
Tidwell did say any student currently enrolled at WCMS will be grandfathered in next year, even if they are not in the WCMS zone. Griffith said the decision is in the best interest of everyone involved.
“It’s a hard decision to make, but it’s the right thing to do,” said Griffith. “It’s all about the numbers and doing what’s best for our students.”
Director of Schools Bobby Cox said the decision is necessary to keep WCMS enrollment manageable. He said the middle school was happy to accept other students when space permitted, but that is no longer a luxury.