Summers: GF schools up to 1,328 students
Superintendent Matt Summers said the Green Forest School District has seen record enrollment numbers for this school year, reporting an increase of almost 60 more students on campus.
“The first week of school, we basically did a headcount in the seats,” he said. “That number was a little over 1,300.”
Summers said the district ended the fourth quarter of the 2017-18 school year with 1,269 students.
After the 10-day drop period this August, he said the district has 1,328 students enrolled, as well as 39 students in the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) Preschool classes.
Summers said this means Green Forest is up about 59 students district-wide this school year — a 4.6 percent increase.
“That’s really big and would be the largest enrollment for our school district of all time,” he said.
The completion of the new 200,000-square-foot Tyson Foods facility in Green Forest has added to the rising enrollment numbers, he said.
“We knew this was coming,” Summers said. “I keep in constant contact with Tyson. We’re on speed dial with them. There are supposed to be some apartments coming, so we could see even more growth throughout the year and even next year as soon as some more housing comes into town.”
So far, he said the district has not had to make any major changes to accommodate the influx of new students.
“Of course, there are always tweaks and tuneups to start every school year,” he said. “We do have larger class sizes. That is a challenge or an opportunity depending on how you want to look at that.”
Summers said both the school buses and cafeterias are at or near capacity now.
“That means you potentially have to split lunches or go by grade level,” he said. “We may have to have a Lunch A and Lunch B. Those are all common practices to reduce the traffic flow of students and make it more efficient.”
Summers continued, “Then you start looking at the middle school and high school, where classroom sizes become a little tighter and you have to have classes meeting where a teacher is maybe on their conference period.”
He said the district moved teachers and condensed classrooms at the elementary level.
“We do not have any vacant classrooms, but we’re not in an overflow situation yet,” Summers said.
While the district is not at the point where it needs to build new classrooms or bring in portable classrooms, he said there are several “hot grades” nearing capacity for both classroom size and student-to-teacher ratios.
“We discussed it in open session at last Monday’s board meeting,” Summers said. “Right now, we’re looking at a holding pattern. We should know by December if the new apartments are coming. There are a lot of rumors about that, but there isn’t brick and mortar.”
He continued, “When we see the brick and mortar, that will be a very good indication of what we’re going to have to do building-wise. So we’re in a ‘wait and see’ pattern until about December.”
If enrollment continues to grow, Summers said the district may have to look at some other plans.
“If our enrollment stabilizes and we’re right there at 1,300,” he said, “then we may go ahead and move on the Grim Gym project. We could start talking about that and getting it together in December for preparation to start the construction in May and be done over the summer so it will be ready for the 2019-20 school year.”
Summers continued, “Of course, athletic facilities do not receive any state aid so that would be on our building fund budget. We do have the funds available to do that.”
Originally, construction on the Grim Gym remodel had been scheduled to begin the Monday after 2017 graduation. Summers said the school board voted to wait on it and other major construction projects until they could get an idea of what the future held for enrollment.
“Those are some of the challenges and opportunities that come along with the growth,” he said. “It’s pretty neat to see such a large enrollment for our district.”