LEXINGTON, Ky. - Mallory Grimm is excited and ready for Kindergarten at Stonewall Elementary. Earlier this month the five-year-old breezed through a teacher's assessment of how well she understands basic shapes, colors, and words.
The new academic year started Wednesday for Fayette County Public Schools. Like last August and the one before that, the district will see more students fill its classrooms.
Mallory has an older brother at Stonewall, who at one point had to attend Picadome Elementary because of how the school district’s service areas are drawn. For mom Margaret Grimm, the location wasn’t ideal.
“It was more like a 20-25 minute drive in the morning with traffic so we were thrilled when we were redistricted and could come close by. It’s not fun driving by three schools on your way to school.”
The opening of Wellington Elementary last year allowed the Grimms and some other families to shift to their neighborhood school. Enrollment at Stonewall is holding steady and near capacity.
“We’re anticipating right around the same again, about 700. So I mean we’re pretty full. It’s not like we’ve got a lot of extra space,” says Principal Bill Gatliff.
Staff at FCPS central office keeps track of the current number of students and makes projections for future enrollment. That task was pretty simple in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, when the district held steady at just under 33,000 students.
“Probably about four or five years ago, we started seeing pretty significant increases in our enrollment, generally in the range from 600 to 800,” says Chief Operating Officer Mary Wright.
Over the past ten years Lexington as a whole has grown, but there are other factors contributing to the increased student population. Wright says Fayette County is attracting students who may have attended other schools, there are fewer dropouts, and more kids are entering public pre-school and Kindergarten.
“From our perspective, growth is a good thing.”
This year Fayette County officials are expecting around 38,000 regular K-12 students, and Superintendent Tom Shelton says growth will likely continue and have a domino effect.
“We’re having larger and larger elementary classes coming in. But as those children are getting older, it’s putting a real burden on our facilities at the middle and high school level.”
Shelton says short-term and intermediate plans to alleviate overcrowding include expanded alternative programs and schools such as the new all-male Carter G. Woodson Academy and the Locust Trace AgriScience Farm. Redistricting is also used to balance out school population.
To keep up with the growth, however, the district knows it needs to improve and add to its school facilities. A local planning committee is currently reviewing a list of priorities.
“We’ll be looking at existing facilities to determine if we need to do updates and, as a part of those updates, if we need to add capacity at existing schools,” says Wright.
Back at Stonewall Elementary, construction crews are working on a more than $15 million dollar renovation project. It will put many students in a large portable classroom multiplex (what Principal Gatliff calls a Learning Village). The school is one of 14 projects currently in the design or construction phase for Fayette County as the district looks for room for its students.
Coming up Thursday, WUKY reports on how Fayette County Public Schools is making plans for new construction, including a sixth traditional high school.