Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

TOP STORY >>Student growth expands in Cabot

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

What, in your opinion, are the two greatest challenges facing the still-growing Cabot School District over the next 10 years?
That was one of three homework questions Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman posed to a new focus group Friday during the first of many meetings to come as the district keeps adding more students, putting it in the top fourth in growth and seventh in size in the state.

“We are at a crossroads in the district,” Thurman told the group of about 30 community members, parents and former school board members. “We need your input as to what direction our patrons feel would be the best way to go.”

Friday’s meeting topic was facilities and growth; future meetings will focus on providing feedback to board members on funding, curriculum, technology and school safety.

The focus group will meet periodically for the rest of the school year and it is Thurman’s objective to have a group each year that provides input to the district.

“We need people from outside, with children or grandchildren in the district, teachers in the district, those that have been part of the district for many years and have a vested interest in what happens in Cabot schools, and we want to hear from you – the good and the bad, that’s why you were chosen,” Thurman said.

The district’s official enrollment numbers for this year in its 14 schools show a student population of 9,245 – an increase of over 2,000 students over 10 years.

Assuming an annual increase of 3 percent, Cabot’s student population is projected to hit 10,405 students five years from now.

By 2017, using the yearly 3 percent increase, the population is expected to be over the 12,000 mark.

“Three percent is with the current trends and we have every reason to believe this trend will stay in place as long as we continue to offer a quality product and we still have places for people to live,” Thurman said.

Knowing the projected population figures, there is no doubt the district will eventually have to expand its facilities – be it additional classrooms added at existing schools, or construction of a new school – ideas Thurman hopes his focus group will provide input on.

Of the eight elementary schools, only three — Central, Westside and Stagecoach — have the space to add additional classrooms if needed.

“These three are the only ones really with the land available to add four, five or six classes more,” Thurman said.

The others are either as full as they need to get, have commercial property surrounding them or would cause too many traffic problems if expanded.

At the middle school level, both Middle School South and Middle School North still have room for growth.

With a maximum capacity at each school of 1,200 students, MSS is currently at 738 and MSN is at 682.

The junior high campuses are much closer to reaching their maximum capacity of 1,200 students each; Junior High South has a current population of 1,025 and Junior High North, currently at the high school campus due to last August’s electrical fire, has 1,141 students.

With the projected 3 percent increase, the junior highs will be even closer to maximum capacity by next school year and could be over the limit in three years.

Cabot has a good school district, Thurman said, but it must face many challenges that lay ahead to remain a very good school district, especially with the market place of options for students getting more aggressive.

Thurman said that while people might still move to Cabot, there are now other educational options for students, citing a virtual high school with online classes and no base location as an example.

“There are a lot of challenges to keep up with what is happening with our students,” he said.

“Our board members want to know what you think,” Thurman told the focus group, adding he would be as transparent as possible in giving out information during the meetings so patrons would know what the district is dealing with.