Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Education

Wiregrass Ranch High drops plan that would have eased crowding

WESLEY CHAPEL — Wiregrass Ranch High School has abandoned a plan that would have eased crowding by having some students take classes at home twice a week.

The school estimated that 250 students would need to participate in the program for it to have an impact. Only 58 indicated a willingness to take courses online twice weekly, attend class on campus two other days and use the fifth day for enrichment or remediation.

"Our kids really like the face-to-face with teachers," principal Robyn White said Monday. "We are going back to the drawing board."

The school does not have an easy solution.

Wiregrass Ranch, Pasco County's most populous high school, is projected to have 2,303 students next fall. That's 28 more than forecast three months ago, and 670 more than the school is built to hold. It's also not what anyone expected.

Back in 2010, a committee redrew attendance boundaries for the county's east side high schools amid concerns that Wiregrass Ranch was getting too big. Ray Bonti, principal at the time, worried that enrollment would surge past 2,300 if some neighborhoods weren't removed from the zone.

The changes were supposed to put the school somewhere around 2,000 students.

Improvements in the local economy since then have led to renewed home building, as well as sales of foreclosed homes. Attendance numbers quickly jumped at Wiregrass Ranch, to the tune of 150 new students this academic year.

By comparison, Wesley Chapel High also grew but only at about half the rate, and it wasn't as full. It is projected to be at 109 percent of capacity next fall, compared to 141 percent for Wiregrass Ranch. Countywide, just two schools have higher crowding rates — Oakstead Elementary at 152 percent and Seven Oaks Elementary at 145 percent.

Wiregrass Ranch now has eight "floater" teachers and 20 portable classrooms.

"Doing the rezoning bought us some time, but the time is up," district planning director Chris Williams said. "We certainly hoped it would be a little longer than this."

More portables — White has said she expects to need 10 — would have to take over outdoor basketball courts, as no other adequate open space exists.

School Board members have shown little interest in moving to double sessions or returning to the old attendance model of 45 days on/15 days off, two other ways to keep classrooms from overflowing. Attendance zone changes would help little, as the nearest schools, Wesley Chapel High and Zephyrhills High, also are above capacity.

Still, Williams said he might look at another rezoning for the areas that might be moved when a new school opens, but that hasn't been discussed yet. The district has plans to build a new high school to open three years from now.

Assistant superintendent Amelia Larson said no ideas had been adopted or ruled out. She plans to have a team look at the options before making any recommendations.

One thing was certain though: She does not want to let the school get too big.

"The fact is that no kid wants to be anonymous," Larson said. "When you put kids in that large of an environment, there is the danger that kids will become anonymous.... I'm just going to explore everything."

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

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