Archive for Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tonganoxie schools’ enrollment spikes again

Grade school sees 58 more students

September 21, 2005

Just a week ago, Tonganoxie Elementary School Principal Jerry Daskoski dug a little dirt out in a field near Washington and Pleasant streets.

As he participated in the ground-breaking ceremony for Tonganoxie's new middle school, the elementary school principal couldn't help but feel nostalgic.

"I'm starting to go through withdrawal of not having fifth- and sixth-graders here," Daskoski said, from his TES office. "I have a passion for that age group."

Back before Daskoski was a school administrator, he was a teacher.

"I always taught fifth or sixth grade," he said. "I'm missing those kids already. But at the same time, we're enjoying the time we've got over the next two years."

By this time in 2007, it's anticipated the new middle school will open.

Daskoski will feel a hole in his heart because of the fifth- and sixth-graders' absence. But their move to a new school will bring relief to the elementary school building that is bursting at the seams with students.

On Tuesday, the Tonganoxie school district, like its counterparts across the state, conducted an official headcount. Enrollment in the district was up 68 students.

"That's a nice increase, of course," Superintendent Richard Erickson said. "We've averaged the last three years, a 40-student increase per year."

And the results at the elementary school weren't surprising. Daskoski had known since the first day of classes that enrollment was up -- substantially.

"Last year at this time, as far as the students in our school, we had 819," he said. "That's just the ones who are here in our school. And this year we have 877."

That 7.2 percent increase -- or 58 young bodies -- has had an effect on the school.

It's not the first year enrollment has spiked at TES. And, Daskoski hopes, it won't be the last. He certainly doesn't want the problem of declining enrollment, which is plaguing his peers in many western Kansas schools.

But still, the additional students take a toll.

During each of the past four years, Daskoski has added a teacher to his staff.

He has three kindergarten teachers who teach six groups of half-time students. And at the first, fourth and sixth grades, six teachers are handling the load. The other grade levels have five teachers each.

It's difficult to anticipate, year to year, where the student increases will come, Daskoski said.

This year's third-graders number 118. Last year, that same class was 107.

"When they come in, there's no rhyme nor reason, no way to calculate how they'll spread themselves out," the principal said.

But one point is clear: This year's 120 kindergartners are sending a message.

"That's significant because what happens with every class through the grade school is it will grow larger as time goes on," Daskoski said.

And so, while Daskoski will miss those fifth- and sixth-graders during the 2007-2008 school years, he sees the need for their departure.

"It was good being out there, breaking ground," he said, "because that's going to change things quite a bit for us. But, realistically, we're going to fill this place up pretty quick."

Plans call for several TES classrooms to convert to other uses. The kitchen, the library and the student services office all will be enlarged.

"There's three rooms right there that I've lost," he said.

And so, it's possible that in another few years, a new solution to crowding at Tonganoxie Elementary School will be needed.

But for now, Daskoski and his staff are about a month into another year. And they've noticed the additional 58 students.

"This is the first year that, right now, the energy that I feel in this school -- as far as the students being active -- it's like when spring comes, you have this spring fever," Daskoski said.

And that's a new feeling in the building, he said.

"I think, we think, that we've hit that critical mass, that we have become so large that there's an energy in and of itself," he said.

Daskoski is seeing more discipline referrals -- something that's usually reserved for spring, when children are eager to spend more time outdoors.

"They're everyday things -- kids not completing their assignments," he said.

But, still, the number is higher than usual, particularly for the start of a new school year.

"It's not a bad thing," Daskoski said. "It's a different dynamic."

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