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Triton Central puts cap on student population

Triton Central Elementary School students listen to instructions on the first day of the school year. The Northwestern Consolidated school board decided to cap the number of students to 150 per grade level on Wednesday, in part because of growing numbers ofout-of-district students.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

Since 2012, the Northwestern Consolidated School Corporation has seen a consistent climb in its enrollment, causing the elementary school to add two sections in the past two years to accommodate more students. A third was added at the middle school.

Due to that, on Wednesday, the school board voted 5-0 in favor of setting a capacity of 150 students per grade level and setting a deadline for transfer students to apply by Sept. 14. Board members Ken Polston and Tim Kelly were unable to attend the meeting.

“What that does is allow us to take in transfers within the limits of our infrastructure at the elementary that it frankly can take on,” Superintendent Chris Hoke said. “If we were to go above that number of kids, it gets real tight and then we have to begin to strategically look at some things that frankly is not optimal from a structural standpoint. We’re a long way away from 150.”

After the meeting, he said increased enrollment is “a great problem to have” and compared it to running a restaurant.

“The food’s really good,” he said. “There are only so many tables and a lot of people want to eat here. You better get a reservation early. If you’re a restauranteur, that would be a great dilemma to be in and so it’s analogous to what we’re seeing.”

The largest grade level – the sophomores in the high school – have 136. The next largest is the fifth grade with 131. Both the second and third grades have 128 students.

The biggest concern is at the elementary, Hoke said.

Due to building constraints, the elementary could conceivably add two more sections of classes if necessary. After the meeting, Hoke said he foresees the elementary needing those additions in 2-3 years, so long as the current trend continues.

The corporation has been reviewing its strategic planning since this spring, and while no decisions have been made, Hoke said they needed to look ahead.

“Who do we want to be when we grow up, so to speak?” he said.

Twenty percent of the school population comes from out of the district, and that percentage has been steady in recent years. The district has not seen an “explosion” in its in-district population, but Hoke said he anticipates it will in the next decade.

The 150 student per grade cap was set based on the infrastructure constraint at the elementary. That number could change in the future if necessary, but Hoke said ideally, an elementary school classroom has less than 30 students.

There is less concern about the middle and high school capacity because of both buildings’ size. Both have a greater capability to add more sections at the moment. Hoke said another factor is each students’ schedules having different teachers in each subject creates greater fluctuations in class sizes.

Out-of-district students come because of the culture created by the staff, the facilities and class size, he said. Being a single campus benefits the district, too, he said, noting he’s in all three buildings and eats lunch in one every day.

“It’s not any one causation, its a number of things,” he said. “We do things intentionally with our brand to facilitate that. You give people a product they want to buy.”