WMS shows off school, students during open house

WORTHINGTON -- Worthington Middle School hosted the first of this week's District 518's open houses Tuesday, which are intended to give residents an idea of how school facilities are being utilized and how they would be affected by the result of ...

Worthington Middle School students sing "Happy Birthday" to principal Jeff Luke Tuesday morning in a music class taught by Cindy Anderson. (Karl Evers-Hillstrom/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Worthington Middle School hosted the first of this week’s District 518’s open houses Tuesday, which are intended to give residents an idea of how school facilities are being utilized and how they would be affected by the result of the upcoming school board referendum.

The Nov. 8 referendum would impact WMS, home to grades 5-8, in a big way. In fact, it would completely change the school’s location. If the referendum passes and a new high school is built, grades 6-8 would move to the old high school and grades 3-5 would be at the current WMS building.


For WMS Principal Jeff Luke, the open house was not just a time to educate people about how the upcoming referendum would affect the school, but to showcase the school’s many classes and diverse group of students in action.

It’s hard to avoid attention when walking into a classroom with the principal, as he’s basically a rock star. Students could not help but look up from their notebooks or iPads to give him a wave.

It was Luke’s birthday Tuesday, and some of the students knew it. As he walked into a bustling  music class, a student blurted out the fact and soon enough, two dozen students were singing happy birthday to their favorite principal.

All seems to be running smoothly at the middle school, but things are going to get crowded soon. Worthington is growing rapidly, and so is the number of kids in the district school system. This only becomes more evident to Luke every year as he witnesses the number of students steadily climb; this year the school is estimated have around 940 students in attendance.


“It’s a good problem to have,” Luke said. “We would rather be growing than going the other direction. We’re lucky to be in this position.”

However, Luke admitted that the school was starting to struggle accommodating the uptick in students -- a yearly increase that shows no sign of slowing down.

“Our class sizes are already going up,” Luke said. “Our seventh-grade class is the biggest it's ever been. We have some math classes with 32 students in them.”

Luke said if the number of students kept increasing, he might have to cut some exploratory programs and elective classes. He also said classroom space was starting to become an issue.


District 518 is going to have near 3,000 students attending school this year. That's up from a population of just over 2,000 in 2008. The district is projected to add at least 800 students in the next decade.

Lori Dudley, vice chair of the District 518 school board, said the referendum is necessary for the district to continue providing a good education to students, as facilities are just able to hold the current amount of students.

“We’re already at maximum capacity for all our buildings,” Dudley said. “We really need this to pass.”

The plan would cost $79 million, $59 million of which would go toward a new high school. The proposed high school is said to have 26 classrooms and a capacity of 1,100 students.

The referendum has become a contentious issue, as farmers and homeowners would see increases in taxes to pay for it.

The open house for Prairie Elementary is from 7:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. today. Worthington High School and the West Learning Center have open houses Thursday at the same times.

Although Worthington Middle School’s open house has come and gone, Luke encouraged residents to stop by and take a tour of the building or ask questions, any time.

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