School year to open with Fayette schools crowded because of surging enrollment

Kindergarten teacher Brittany Henderlight prepared her room at Wellington Elementary School on Keithshire Way in Lexington last week. Wednesday is the first day of classes for the more than 40,000 students in Fayette County Public Schools.
Kindergarten teacher Brittany Henderlight prepared her room at Wellington Elementary School on Keithshire Way in Lexington last week. Wednesday is the first day of classes for the more than 40,000 students in Fayette County Public Schools. Herald-Leader

Lexington's Wellington Elementary School, which opened just two years ago, is already close to its enrollment capacity of 650 students.

Principal Meribeth Gaines said she expected Wellington to have about 600 students when Fayette County Public Schools open Wednesday, not including youngsters in the school's early-start program.

"We're pretty full at every grade level, although we do have a little space left in kindergarten and fifth grade," Gaines said last week. "Overall, we're very close to capacity right now."

That's also true at many other schools in the district. Four of the five high schools — all except Tates Creek — exceed their capacities, and Tates Creek is approaching capacity.

Henry Clay, for instance, will have more than 2,400 students in a building designed for about 2,130, district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said.

Although only four of the 35 elementary schools are at or over capacity, 24 of the rest are at 90 percent of capacity or greater.

Enrollment growth in Fayette County schools continues, with little sign of slowing, Superintendent Tom Shelton said.

Officials initially projected the district would have about 500 new students this year, but they now think there will be more, he said. Exact enrollment won't be known for a while because some students enroll after school starts.

Schools all around Kentucky are reopening this week, and some already are going strong. In Central Kentucky, students returned to the Frankfort Independent Schools on Aug. 1. Scott County Schools opened Tuesday; Garrard County Schools opened Wednesday; and Bourbon County Schools reopened Thursday. Clark County Public Schools open Tuesday, and Madison County Public Schools, Jessamine County Schools and Woodford County Public Schools, like Fayette County, will welcome students back on Wednesday.

Fayette County Public Schools' enrollment has jumped by about 5,000 students during the past six or seven years.

The four elementary schools at or exceeding 100 percent capacity are Rosa Parks, James Lane Allen, Athens-Chilesburg and Russell Cave. District officials expect 24 elementary school to be at 90 percent to 100 percent of capacity, with 17 exceeding 94 percent.

Shelton said that the situation was becoming critical and that he expected to recommend to the school board soon that the district start writing a new comprehensive redistricting plan, which he would like to have ready to phase in for the 2014-15 school year.

School officials attribute the enrollment explosion to general population growth in Lexington.

"We're still seeing solid population growth here in our community," Shelton said. "I think it's just a sign that people want to be in Lexington. The city has kind of become the regional hub for Central and Eastern Kentucky.

"As a result of that, we're seeing not only large incoming kindergarten classes but growth all across the board in all age groups."

Shelton said Fayette school officials had thought enrollment growth would "slow a little bit this year," but that hasn't happened.

"We're seeing some schools that are already full, and we're having to activate our continuation plan about twice as much as we did last year," he said.

The continuation plan essentially allows Fayette schools that are full to distribute new students among nearby schools that have some unused capacity.

School officials announced several months ago that they would be more strict in approving "out-of-area" attendance requests for elementary schools this year because so many schools are becoming crowded.

Gaines, the principal at Wellington Elementary, basically isn't taking any out-of-area requests this year because the school is already close to capacity just accommodating students from the area.

"It was something nice for us to offer before, but it's almost an impossibility this year so that we don't exclude the students who are districted into our school," she said.

Fayette County Public Schools proposed to build several new schools during the next few years to help accommodate continuing enrollment growth. The list includes three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school.

Preliminary planning is underway for one of the elementary schools, which will be on Deer Haven Lane in the rapidly growing residential area east of Interstate 75. Construction will start next summer, said Mary Wright, chief operating officer for the school district.

Meanwhile, Shelton said he hoped to be able to announce a site for the new high school soon. Last year, school officials hinted that the high school probably would be between Richmond and Winchester roads. It's projected to have about 1,800 students.

In addition, Wright said, nine Fayette schools will be renovated this school year.

They include eight elementary schools: Tates Creek, Meadowthorpe, James Lane Allen, Breckinridge, Garden Springs, Deep Springs, Glendover, and Stonewall, and Jessie Clark Middle School.

Tates Creek, James Lane Allen, Breckinridge and probably Stonewall will be finished this school year, Wright said.

While those renovations will add some capacity, the district still will need more schools.

"Our immediate concern is the new high school, and we're working to have appraisals done on the proposed location," Shelton said. "We hope to be ready to take that to the school board this fall."

Summer's over

Fayette County Public Schools open for the 2013-14 school year Wednesday morning. More than 40,000 students will be returning to classes. Many other Central Kentucky districts already have begun their school years.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader