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High schools brace for crowded halls

The county's high schools expect record attendance. Citrus High will put classes in storage areas.

Published July 28, 2006

INVERNESS - Principal Leigh Ann Bradshaw cut right to the point in her e-mail Wednesday to the school superintendent.

Help, she wrote.

When Citrus High School opens in less than two weeks, an estimated 1,727 students are expected to walk through its doors. That's a record for the school, which counted 1,505 students in May.

Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel called Bradshaw after receiving her e-mail. On Thursday, they met to discuss how to accommodate the crush of students.

"When you're already crowded," Himmel told the Citrus Times on Thursday, "100 more students can make a huge difference."

Bradshaw could not be reached for comment.

Fall enrollments at the district's two other high schools are also expected to reach new highs. Lecanto High, which traditionally has had the largest student population, expects to receive 1,728 students.

Crystal River High will remain the least populated school. About 1,400 students are expected to show up there.

The projected enrollment figures assume that every freshman, sophomore and junior who attended the schools last year will return.

Most years, the number of students who show up on the first day of school is lower than the projected enrollment.

Chuck Dixon, the district's new director of growth management and planning, said Citrus High has enough space for the students expected to arrive.

That doesn't mean, though, that the hallways won't be even more crowded come Aug. 8.

Like Lecanto High, Citrus already has several lunch periods scheduled throughout the day because the cafeterias are too small to accommodate all the students at once.

Himmel said Citrus could be forced to add another lunch period. The school also will have to use storage space as classrooms, a common practice at crowded schools.

This year, Citrus has also hired more teachers and added a fourth assistant principal in anticipation of more students.

Dixon said the influx of students at Citrus High may be because of younger families who are moving to the Highlands area, where housing is more affordable.

The school also draws some students from the fast-growing Central Ridge area, although most teens there attend Lecanto.

Himmel said that the district has been able to keep pace with growth in the county. It is building a new elementary school in Citrus Springs and added prefabricated concrete classrooms at CREST and Lecanto High.

But as Citrus continues to grow, Himmel said, the School Board will have to make a decision about limiting the number of students at the high schools.

That day might not be far from now. In August, a private consulting group is expected to issue a report on the needs and priorities at every school.

Himmel has stressed the need to offer high school students a more challenging, meaningful education. Key to those efforts, she said, is teachers building relationships with students.

"The bigger you get, you can't do that," she said.

[Last modified July 27, 2006, 23:17:48]

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