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District clamps down on Hillcrest growth

Over the course of the school year more and more students have been enrolling at Hillcrest Elementary School.

School officials cite increased growth on the west side of town and the movement of Navy transferees as reasons for increased growth at the 570-student elementary school. Hillcrest has the largest enrollment of any elementary school in the district.

“Since school has started, we’ve grown by 50 kids,” said Hillcrest Principal Laura Aesoph this week, adding the increase is the equivalent of two additional classes.

Because of the enrollment increase, officials have taken steps to limit class growth in classrooms. Those steps range from adding an extra class to sending new fourth graders to another school in the district.

The increased enrollment gives teachers less time to provide extra one-on-one attention for each student in class.

“There’s only so many minutes teachers can spend with each student,” Aesoph said. The individualized attention is especially needed as course instruction becomes more hands-on and as students prepare for the WASL.

The crammed conditions also caused some additional disciplinary problems, Aesoph said. She said disagreements between students are bound to happen as more use the same playground equipment.

On a recent visit to the school, students in a crowded fourth-grade class use dividers on their desks to help separate themselves from fellow students and keep on task. A fifth-grade art class was held in a space that is technically a hallway because the other art class was in use.

Officials have had to deal with bulging class sizes in fourth grade, second grade and kindergarten classes.

Aesoph said the school’s fourth-grade classes number between 29 and 30 students and there isn’t room to house additional fourth graders.

To remedy the problem, Oak Harbor School District officials have decided to send some students elsewhere.

When parents enroll a new fourth grader at Hillcrest, they will be asked to attend Oak Harbor Elementary School, which has the smallest average fourth-grade class size in the district with 23 students.

It is also the “school of choice” which any student in the district can attend. Because of that distinction, a system is already in place to transport students to the 445-student school.

Aesoph said the school district instituted an additional shuttle to carry kids between the two schools.

So far, only one newly-enrolled fourth grader has been transferred to Oak Harbor Elementary. However, Aesoph said employees see new families enrolling students on a weekly basis.

The fourth-grade classes are not the only area at Hillcrest seeing high student enrollment.

Aesoph said an additional second-grade teacher was hired after the winter break, adding that there wasn’t any classroom space for an additional fourth grade class.

Enrollment in morning kindergarten is at its maximum with 25 students attending each class. Parents enrolling students in kindergarten will be asked to put them in the afternoon class. In addition, any families who don’t need busing will be asked to transfer their kindergartner into the afternoon class, according to information from the Oak Harbor School District.

Joe Hunt, school district communications director, said at least one school in the district has trouble with high class size each year. Last year, when Olympic View Elementary School saw an increase in student enrollment, some new students were sent to Crescent Harbor Elementary School.

He said the school district has a policy that class size tops out at 28 students and officials have to take steps to balance class size.

Balancing student populations among schools is a constant struggle with new construction, lopsided growth on the west side of town and the frequent comings and goings of Navy transferees, said David Peterson, assistant principal of the Oak Harbor School District in a written statement.

If the population projection continue to show further overcrowding, then officials will look at more long-term solutions to alleviate overcrowding at the school.

However, Hunt said that enrollment in lower grades at Hillcrest aren’t a concern as first-grade classes average 23 students, second-grade classes average 22 students and third-grade classes average 25 students.

Enrollment at other elementary schools in the district aren’t as high as Hillcrest Elementary. Enrollment at Broad View is at 396 students, Clover Valley is at 407 students, Crescent Harbor is at 375 students and Olympic View is at 433.

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