Williamsburg-James City County’s nine elementary schools are bursting at the seams. Overcrowding is forcing teachers and students into trailers, workrooms, storage closets, and hallways for gifted services, tutoring, reading assistance, speech therapy, and other important learning.
Total elementary school capacity is greater than 97% right now, and it is expected to exceed 100% within 10 years. On paper, 100% capacity may look good but in practice it is not. Imagine a school is an empty glass. It can hold 8 ounces and be filled to the very top. But, as soon as you try to pick the glass up, the water spills over. A school is the same way, if you try to use every inch of space, you lose something – you lose quality instruction. Kids aren’t meant to learn in hallways, closets or small teacher workrooms.
Last year, the school division’s long-range master planning committee and the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) committee carefully considered the options of either a new elementary school or expansions at elementary schools. Unfortunately, not all schools have the capability or space for expansion. In addition, two schools already house more than 700 students, so an expansion would create a mega-school. With that in mind, the committees determined that a building a new school is the best option.
Originally, the new elementary school was approved for design and construction in 2023 and 2024 but based on overcrowding and the lack of needed instructional space, the superintendent and school board moved the project up two years in the newly adopted Capital Improvement Plan. Here is why:
- Elementary school enrollment, including the 395 Pre-K spaces, sits at 97.4% effective capacity for the 2019-20 school year.
- Right now, Matoaka, Stonehouse, and Matthew Whaley elementary schools exceed 100% effective capacity.
- J. Blaine Blayton Elementary is at 97.4% effective capacity, and Norge Elementary is at 96.5% effective capacity.
- Three other schools – Clara Byrd Baker, Laurel Lane, and D. J. Montague – are between 92% and 94% capacity.
- Students are in two trailers at Matthew Whaley Elementary School, and the division plans to add a trailer at Stonehouse Elementary School next school year.
- Currently, Stonehouse, Matoaka, and Norge elementary schools have larger student populations than three WJCC middle schools.
- Due to a lack of space, small group learning, speech therapy, tutoring, gifted services, and Title I reading intervention services are often delivered in hallways or common areas.
- Based on the re-allocation of available space over time, instruction is now taking place in teacher workrooms, lunch rooms, closets, and storage areas at several WJCC elementary schools.
- James River is the only WJCC elementary school with an effective capacity of less than 90%. From a student needs and instructional perspective, James River is at capacity.
- This school has 72% of its students on free and reduced lunch.
- It has the largest English Learner population of any school in the division with 19%.
- Currently, the student-to-teacher ratio at James River is 19:1.
Enrollment Projections (Based on 2019 Future Think Report)
- Over the last nine years, enrollment projections have been 99.7% accurate.
- Low estimate projections from the 2019 Future Think report show that total elementary school enrollment will continue to approach or exceed 97% effective capacity until 2029-2030 when it reaches 100%.
Trigger points for CIP discussion
- The School Board, City Council, and County Board of Supervisors agreed to use 85% capacity as the trigger point to begin discussions about including new schools in the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and 90% as the trigger point for action.
- The time to act is now.