Amy Stamper said she doesn't mind that her daughter is taking fourth-grade classes in a portable classroom at Liberty Elementary because of high attendance.
Stamper, president of the Liberty Elementary PTA, said she thinks the quality of teaching at Liberty is top-notch, and she said she doesn't know "if we would be any better if we had fewer students."
Stamper's sentiment mirrors that of many parents whose students walk the crowded hallways in Fayette County Public Schools.
Overcrowding is a problem that district officials are concerned about, and one that has played a significant role in plans for a new high school and two new elementary schools. It also will be one of the main talking points as a committee spends the next few months figuring out the best way to rezone the district's attendance boundaries.
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Liberty Elementary School, Henry Clay High School and Edythe J. Hayes Middle School — all in east Lexington — are the most overcrowded in Fayette County this fall, according to data from the district.
At least two of five high schools are at capacity or over capacity, as are four of 12 middle schools, and 11 of 35 elementary schools.
District attendance analyst Bob Joice pointed to the housing growth in east Lexington and the overcrowding at Henry Clay that resulted in the decision to build a new high school on Winchester Road set to open in 2017.
Superintendent Tom Shelton said that data will be shared with the redistricting committee that is redrawing school boundaries.
"That's helping them understand why we are asking for the redistricting," Shelton said. "How would we relieve Henry Clay, for example? The capacity of each school building compared with enrollment shows you where the issues are."
One new elementary school off Polo Club Boulevard is a response to the growth in Lexington's Hamburg area. The second elementary school is being built on Georgetown Road to help with growth of the Masterson Station area in north Lexington, Shelton said.
The primary areas of Fayette County that will be redistricted in the current effort are the areas where schools are most overcrowded, Shelton said. A decision on the new school attendance zones is expected in early 2015.
Officials determine a school's capacity by multiplying the number of regular classrooms by 25. Generally, 650 students is considered the desired maximum for an elementary school, Joice said.
Fayette Schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said much of the district's growth is happening at the elementary level. For example, Liberty, which has a capacity of 650, has an enrollment of 807. The school opened in August 2008 and has quickly grown to become the largest elementary school in the district. The school has had to use portable classrooms to deal with overcrowding.
Stamper said she thinks her daughter is as safe in a portable classroom as if she attended class in the main building.
Also, Stamper said that the PTA recently worked with school officials to purchase iPads so that students in the portables have the same technology as students in the main building.
At 752 students, Athens-Chilesburg Elementary in east Lexington is over capacity by about 100 students.
Joice said some of the elementary schools would be even more overcrowded if the district didn't have a continuation plan that places elementary students in other schools if their home school is over capacity.
Meanwhile, a third new elementary school will be built after 2016, but the area has not been determined, Shelton said.
Four of the district's middle schools are overcrowded, according to the data.
Hayes Middle School, which has a capacity of 800, had an enrollment of 1,091. Beaumont Middle School in south Lexington has a capacity of 967 and an enrollment of 1,142.
David Hoskins, the principal of Hayes Middle School, said, "it doesn't feel like we are overcrowded."
Hoskins said lunchtime is orderly, the hallways are calm, and the students are classified as "proficient" by the state.
Still, Shelton said a new middle school could be built about 2020, but the location has not been determined.
"We are not going to be able to achieve it all with this one redistricting" effort, Shelton said.
As for high schools, Henry Clay and Paul Laurence Dunbar are both overcrowded.
With building capacity of 2,133, Henry Clay has an enrollment of 2,402.
Dunbar, on Lexington's south end, has an enrollment of 2,169 and a building capacity of 2,033.
By 2018, Fayette County expects to have an additional 1,300 high school students, Joice said.
"The new high school is important because the high schools are currently crowded," and because of the expected growth in the next five years, he said, "after we build the sixth high school and redistrict, the high schools will still be fairly crowded — not jam-packed, but they will still be fairly crowded.''
The district's school buildings are not meant to hold an excessive number of students, Shelton said.
"You don't have adequate restrooms, you don't have adequate cafeteria space, you don't have adequate learning spaces available, so you could end up having a larger number of students in the classroom; the halls become full; you have to add portables," said Shelton.
"Its just an issue of trying to make sure that a school is set to be efficient at a certain number of students."
Top efficiency is probably not at 100 percent capacity, but at 80 to 100 percent, the superintendent said.
University of Kentucky Associate Professor Ellen Usher said that when schools reach capacity, the concerns could involve whether there are adequate physical resources and whether there are more disciplinary challenges. Usher, the director of the College of Education's P20 Motivation and Learning Lab, said there might be expectations placed on teachers to follow particular instructional approaches "that are not easily achieved with large numbers of students."
Fayette school board chairman John Price, who represents some of the schools that are over capacity, said he has not had complaints from parents at those schools.
School board member Amanda Ferguson said she had received "dozens of complaints" over the last five years regarding the overcrowding at Henry Clay and "quite a few since the start of this school year."
"Given that the building itself is basically the same as when I graduated from there 30 years ago, when only three grades were housed there, and Lexington's population growth over the same time period, it is no surprise the school is currently way over capacity," she said.
Ferguson said she had been advocating for a new high school for about the same five years, and it was one of the first issues she raised when Shelton became superintendent.
Ferguson said she was grateful that Shelton immediately recognized the district's need and has embraced moving forward with the new high school.
Both Ferguson and Price said district officials were working on the new school as quickly as rules and regulations allow.
"But I know it cannot come quickly enough for the students and staff at Henry Clay who feel the need most directly," she said.
Russ Owens, president of the Henry Clay PTSA, said while the cafeteria is sometimes overcrowded, it does not present significant problems. Owens said portable classrooms are among the solutions at Henry Clay.
Additionally, he said that when one teacher has a planning period and is not using a classroom, another teacher might hold class there.
"It's taken a lot of creative ideas" at both the district level and with school administrators, Owens said.
"They've made what could be a bad situation not that big of a deal," he said.