PORTLAND, Ore. — Parents and teachers at Beverly Cleary School in Northeast Portland met Thursday night to discuss solutions to an increasingly troublesome overcrowding problem.
Principal Teri Geist said they’ve been “living, eating and breathing this problem for several years.” She explained to KATU that the neighborhood surrounding the two Beverly Cleary campuses has grown faster than experts anticipated, and Portland Public Schools’ redistricting has not kept up. Geist told us demographers from Portland State University, “anticipated [neighborhood growth] would be between four and five percent, and for the last five years it has averaged over ten percent."
Fernwood Middle School and Hollyrood Elementary merged to become Beverly Cleary School in 2008, named after the local children’s author of “Ramona” fame. Each campus now faces different problems from student overcrowding.
Youngest kids eat lunch in classrooms
At Hollyrood (kindergarten through first grade), students no longer have a cafeteria; they eat in their classrooms every day. School leaders consider this a potential safety problem for children with serious allergies, and a general cleanliness issue.
The library has become a combination music room/computer lab/small group space/teacher planning space/library. Kindergarten class sizes are considered large with 30 students each. Geist said this year she wanted to break the group into five sections to lower class sizes, but didn’t have the physical space to do so.
The local Campfire group hosts before and after-school childcare in classrooms, and that further limits space for teachers to meet with students or prepare for class.
Stuffing kids "into physical capacities that won’t accept them"
At Fernwood (second through eighth grade), each eighth grade class has 37 students. Every space that could be converted into a classroom is already being used. This means there’s no dedicated computer lab on campus.
A lack of space has forced the elimination of after-school science and Spanish language programs, and Campfire is unable to provide child care.
The overcrowding has grown to a point where Geist fears students and teachers will have to be relocated. With a defeated tone, she told KATU that something has to be done because “we cannot continue to stuff kids into physical capacities that won't accept them.”
Victims of their own success
While Geist couldn’t give a scientific explanation for the unanticipated growth, she explained that the neighborhood has gotten significantly younger.
“A lot of people who were older and didn’t have children have moved on and sold their houses,” she said.
Geist said the area is now attracting younger families, with nearby public transportation and a track record of school success.
“I think the word is out about the good job we do at Beverly Cleary,” she admitted.
Portland Public Schools proposed several short-term solutions to overcrowding Thursday night. A district-wide boundary review is scheduled to take place for the 2015-2016 school-year.
In the meantime, the district is not considering adding modular buildings or shifting the entire eighth grade class to nearby Grant High School. The district has not ruled out shifting some students to what would become a third Beverly Cleary campus at Rose City Park School.
Geist hopes whatever changes are approved will happen in time for new kindergarten parents to register kids in February.
Another public meeting is scheduled in the Fernwood Cafeteria for Thursday, Jan. 23 at 6:45 p.m.