Weather Forecast


Flooding the classrooms

WORTHINGTON -- At Worthington High School on Monday, Principal Paul Karelis was considering creating a classroom on the stage of the cafeteria to accommodate an anticipated 25-student increase at the start of class today.

He ultimately shifted some classes around to make things work, but it's been a challenge.

"You can only do so much with what you have," Karelis said.

The growing pains aren't just at the senior high, but at Worthington Middle School, the Alternative Learning Center (ALC) and Prairie Elementary, too, according to District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard.

Landgaard said Monday enrollments are up at all four of the schools. Prairie Elementary is slated to see an increase of 100 students, with the school's enrollment at 1,165 as of Monday. The school has a design capacity of 1,150 students.

"One of the original art rooms has been turned into a classroom," Landgaard said. "They've had to move some of the specialty teachers into other spaces so we have classroom space."

The influx of students can be attributed to new kindergarteners, as well as new families coming in and open enrollments from other districts, he added.

"It's really our elementary and middle school group where the largest number (of open enrollments) has been," Landgaard said.

Worthington Middle School Principal Jeff Luke said that after registering more students on Monday, there are 66 new students this year for a total of 782 kids in the building.

"In the spring we figured 768, so we're up 14 from where we anticipated," Luke said. "They keep showing up."

A couple of modifications were completed this summer to make room for the additional students. A wall was constructed in the industrial tech room to create a special education classroom, and a wall added in the computer lab to create space for an EL class.

Those changes are likely to serve the school well this year, although Luke is already looking ahead to challenges in 2013.

"We actually have a small conference room that we can use this year, but it will be a classroom next year," he said. "We'll also have to add a fifth-grade teacher and a sixth-grade teacher if numbers continue where they are."

Finding spaces for those added classrooms will be the challenge. Luke said the school's special education and EL space will be examined for sharing options, and temporary walls or splitting rooms will also be considered.

If necessary, the feasibility of teachers sharing rooms will be looked at. Teacher room-sharing was started in the high school a year ago to accommodate students.

Even at the Alternative Learning Center, where Landgaard said approximately 55 students are planned for the first day of classes, enrollment is at 75 kids in the 9-12 grade program.

Monday was Transition Day in the school district, meaning students in grades five and nine had half-days of school to get them acclimated to their new surroundings at either the middle school or the high school.

Classes begin today for all students in grades 5-12, with Prairie Elementary to welcome students on Wednesday.

"The schools are ready for the kids," Landgaard said.

Meanwhile, the District 518 school board is in the process of hiring a consultant to evaluate classroom space district-wide and develop a plan of action. Landgaard said several ideas were discussed in focus group meetings during the last school year, and this is the next step.

"Everybody's concerned about the enrollment and the growth," Landgaard said. "It does create challenges, but the positive thing is that we are growing. People are interested in being in a good school, and we're excited about that."

The alternative is to experience declining enrollment -- something Landgaard said is happening in many rural schools.

With more than 2,840 students enrolled as of Monday in District 518, Landgaard said students are being attracted from neighboring, smaller districts including Fulda, Round Lake, Brewster and even Slayton.

Among the options identified by the focus groups that the consultant will evaluate are building a new high school, building an intermediate school with an addition to the middle school or to add space onto all three school buildings.

"They all have their plusses and minuses," Landgaard said. "The board has to figure out what the best direction will be before they take it to the public."

The plan is to have the consultant's report completed by Dec. 1. Once Landgaard receives the report, he said more meetings with staff and the public will be initiated.

Private schools in Worthington are also starting the new school year with more students.

At St. Mary's School, administrative assistant Krista Svalland said enrollment has jumped to 124 students this fall, leading the K-6 Catholic school to add a second kindergarten classroom. With 29 incoming kindergarteners, she said it is the largest enrollment boost in recent history.

To accommodate a second kindergarten classroom, there was some space shuffling.

"We had an extra room upstairs, so we moved third grade upstairs, and our third-grade room was turned into a kindergarten room," Svalland said.

Students and families will have an opportunity to see the classrooms at St. Mary's during an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. today at the school. Anyone interested in enrolling their child or children in the school is welcome to attend. A meeting in Spanish is planned at 5 p.m., with a meeting in English offered at 6:30 p.m.

"It's a wonderful school. I don't think a lot of people realize how good this school is," Svalland said.

Classes start at St. Mary's on Wednesday.

At Worthington Christian School, administrator Lori Eekhoff said 57 students are enrolled for the start of class today, up five students from a year ago. WCS encompasses K-8th grades, and has eight students enrolled in the kindergarten class.

Eekhoff said while the school's philosophy is the same, much work has been done to broaden the scope to new families and students.

"For many years it was mostly a Christian Reformed church body," she said. "Today, we have 11 different churches and six denominations (represented in) students out here."

Families are choosing Worthington Christian School because of the faith-based education, Eekhoff said, adding that the second top reason is the school's high academic standards.

"Our test scores have been in the top 25 percent for more than 15 years," she shared. "Lower class sizes are also appealing."

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

(507) 376-7330