Crowding slowly easing in Pasco schools

TRINITY — Mitchell High School wasn't supposed to need portable classrooms anymore, with the new Anclote High School opening this fall just a few miles away.

The school's dreams of shedding close to 1,800 students this year have all but disappeared, though. So, too, is the plan to do without portables.

"We're going to use a few," Mitchell principal Jim Michaels said. "We got back more (students) than expected."

The latest available enrollment statistics show Mitchell slated to start the school year with 2,029 students — more than any other school in Pasco County. That's about 400 fewer than attended last year, but 200 more than planners expected for this year.

Close behind Mitchell is Wiregrass Ranch High — but not for long. A concept just four years ago, Wiregrass Ranch opened in 2006 with only 707 freshmen and sophomores.

This week, Wiregrass Ranch is poised to pass Mitchell in becoming Pasco's most populous school. Principal Ray Bonti said it has enough registrations coming through the pipeline in the next few days to push the student body to 2,040.

"We have become the largest high school in Pasco County," Bonti said. "It's a testament to all our teachers and staff. People want to be here."

The likelihood is that Wiregrass Ranch will continue to grow, too. Its main feeder middle school, John Long Middle, has 1,680 students enrolled. For perspective, that's more kids than seven of the county's 12 high schools have on their books.

Among elementary schools, Oakstead still reigns supreme. Its 1,068-member student body ranks it larger than 10 of the district's 15 middle schools.

Such crowded situations are becoming less prevalent each year for Pasco schools, as new schools continue to absorb students. A new elementary school set to open in Trinity in the fall of 2010 should eliminate much of the overage at Oakstead and nearby Longleaf.

A new high school opening next year in Hudson, meanwhile, will address most of the district's remaining crowding issues at the high schools (though not at Mitchell or Wiregrass Ranch).

"After we get Elementary S and High School EEE, we are looking very good," district planner Chris Williams said. "We have essentially caught up, except for a few schools."

Even Mitchell should see its numbers settle down below 2,000, Williams said.

A big part of the reason for its unexpectedly high enrollment is school choice, as many students who had been attending there for special programs seek to remain.

The district approved 167 choice applications into Mitchell, including 104 students who were zoned to Anclote High. The majority requested to stay because Mitchell offers programs that Anclote does not, such as Naval JROTC and career academies in health and business management. Another large group had hardship cases that officials deemed legitimate.

Seventy students, meanwhile, opted to leave Mitchell through choice.

Anclote's lack of a senior class also figures in the picture. Mitchell's Class of 2010 is 578 students, compared with a freshman class of 489. As Anclote begins to take seniors, Mitchell will shrink proportionately.

"This is not an atypical situation," school district spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said. "Greater relief will come."

After 2010, the district does not plan to open any more new schools until 2013.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Crowding slowly easing in Pasco schools 08/12/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 10:54pm]

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