School running out of room

By Ron Burtz

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Custer’s Jr./Sr. High school building is less than 15 years old, but finding enough space to accommodate the growing student body is already becoming an issue and, if enrollments continue to grow as projected, that situation may become critical. 

That was the word from jr./sr. high principal Orion Thompson at a special school board meeting held Monday to report on Career and Technical Education (CTE) in the district. In the meeting held half an hour before the regular monthly meeting and which extended fully 10 minutes past the scheduled start of the regular meeting, Thompson outlined plans for expanding CTE offerings.

Flanked by social science and family and consumer sciences teacher Tiffany Newman and jr./sr. high counselor Athena Williams, Thompson said he would like to add several electives for the upper grades to include an internship program and entrepreneurship course. Under the internship program, students would receive educational credit for working as an apprentice in a field such as plumbing or agriculture in order to learn a trade. 

Under the entrepreneurship program, Thompson said he envisions a coffee house at the school which would be managed and operated by the students as a way of gaining valuable business experience. Thompson said students come into school every day carrying convenience store coffee and asked why not let them buy it at school?

Other electives proposed include a second mixed choir (There are 79 students in mixed choir), agriculture/ applied botany, auto mechanics and culinary arts. 

Thompson also envisions a 50×50-yard greenhouse at the school which could be used to grow vegetables to serve in the school cafeteria. 

Thompson also said Newman is qualified to teach a hospitality and tourism class which, he said, would be a great fit for the area. 

One benefit of adding CTE programs such as an internship, according to Thompson, is that they have the potential to reduce the number of students in the building. 

“I envision a day when students won’t even come to school,” he said, such as in the case of an intern who must only check in with his supervisor in the workplace. 

Projected class sizes for math courses are growing well beyond the maximum of 25 students, according to Thompson, so he said hiring more instructors is imperative. 

Immediate staffing needs outlined by the principal include adding a physical education teacher, an ag/auto technology teacher, a family and consumer sciences teacher and a study hall monitor. 

“At current population, we cannot provide the required courses for graduation at a manageable level with our current staff,” he said. 

He added that 20 more students are expected at the jr./sr. high school next year and said if the population grows at 10 percent a year as projected, the problem will be further exacerbated in coming years. 

In view of the space constraints at the jr./sr. high, school board member Jeff Prior said, “It’s time to have a conversation about putting this space back into use,” referring to the old high school/Armory complex where board meetings are held. Prior noted that the facility is “bought and paid for” and said separating the middle school out again “would alleviate some of the pressure we have on that school.”

Superintendent Mark Naugle said, “We have the space, but to staff the space is the expensive component.” 

In reference to the discussion on adding CTEs, Thompson concluded the meeting by saying, “I need five teachers” to be able to offer more electives. 

The issue of the need for more classroom space was carried over into the regular meeting which followed, but the focus shifted to Hermosa where the district is planning to build a new elementary school.

Administrators reported that the holes have been dug for soil testing on the proposed building site across the street from the current school. 

The next step in the process is to send out a request for proposals (RFP) from architectural firms for design work on a 30 percent completion plan for the new building. 

Much of the discussion about the RFP centered around how many people to involve in the writing of the RFP and when to bring more people into the process. 

Local architect Gene Fennell has proposed that he would create an RFP for the project for $2,100. 

After a lengthy discussion, the board decided to table the matter until administrators could talk to people connected with the new Stagebarn Middle School in Summerset to learn how they carried out the RFP process. 

In other business at Monday’s regular meeting:

• The board set the March meeting to begin at 5 p.m. on March 7 so it won’t conflict with a high school concert which starts at 7 p.m. The meeting had already been rescheduled from Monday to Thursday because of a scheduling conflict. 

• School board members discussed a book on the U.S. Constitution which is being used in fifth grade classrooms. Board president Jared Carson applauded the book and noted that he and others had heard from community members about the need to “bring civics back” into the schools. 

• Prior reported on the status of the TeamMates mentoring program at Custer Elementary. He said 28 mentors are meeting weekly with students, but 20 more are still needed. Naugle thanked the Custer County Commission for their generous donation to the program.