Sunday, November 19, 2017
Education

Enrollment surge has Wiregrass Ranch High bursting at seams

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WESLEY CHAPEL — Students streamed through the hallways of Wiregrass Ranch High School even as the third-period bell rang Friday morning.

Principal Robyn White shrugged and said she understood why some kids would be late to class.

The school has 20 portables out back, and it takes some time to hustle from one end of campus to the other.

A bigger concern is what to do if more students show up.

Wiregrass Ranch, which closed the last school year with about 1,970 students, hit the 2,200 mark — its highest enrollment since opening — in its second week of the new semester. And more teens have registered daily.

How quickly is the school growing? It sat at 2,090 students on Aug. 19, when classes resumed.

"I've been asking district what to do next," White said, noting that she has space to float just three more teachers — no classrooms for them — and might have found a way to squeeze three more portables onto campus.

Boundary shifts might seem a natural move. But School Board member Allen Altman, who represents the region, said such changes aren't so simple.

"We have schools that are over, and we have many schools that are just right at the limit," Altman said.

Wesley Chapel High was bumping up against its capacity of 1,518, while Zephyrhills High was nearly 300 students above its 1,082 permanent seats. Pasco High also exceeded its capacity.

Sunlake High had plenty of open seats, but it sits 13 miles from Wiregrass Ranch.

"We don't really have the funds to build a school," planning director Chris Williams said, suggesting that a new campus could resolve the crowding issues throughout east Pasco.

Superintendent Kurt Browning and other top district officials have approached Pasco-Hernando Community College leaders about sharing space at the college's new Porter campus, adjacent to Wiregrass Ranch High, once the buildings open. That idea is in its very early stages, though, and would not resolve the issue this year.

White joked that she might have to put a "no room at the inn" sign in front of the campus if the enrollment surge continues. She pointed to Seminole High School in Seminole County, where new students who aren't incoming freshmen are being directed elsewhere because of crowding.

"Due to state law on class size, Seminole High School is closed to new student enrollment for 2013-2014. Only students zoned to Seminole County High School who are currently in 8th grade will be enrolled for 9th grade next year," the district's website states. "Any new students to the Seminole High School zone may choose to attend Lyman, Oviedo, or Winter Springs high schools. Transportation is provided."

Gorrie Elementary School in Tampa also did not admit any new students in 2012-13 because it had no room for added classrooms and did not want to violate state class-size rules.

Williams said he didn't think sending away students who live in the zone would be an option for Wiregrass Ranch. But then, he added, "We're not sure what the answer is yet."

Altman expected teacher reassignments (at the very least) to meet the growing demand after the 20th day of classes, which comes Sept. 16. District-wide, Pasco's enrollment is about 1,000 students above projections.

"They know they are going to have to add allocations, and are preparing to do that," Altman said. "It continues to be a challenge."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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