New expansion to ease growing pains in Alexandria schools

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: August 3, 2006

ALEXANDRIA – Jill Marsh’s sons have felt the space crunch at Alexandria Elementary School.

Marsh said her older son, who is entering fifth grade this fall, has special needs and works with physical and occupational therapists.

“There were a lot of the times when the physical therapist and the occupational therapist would come … and they would have to just walk around the school and find a place where they could work with my child or other children, and it was very difficult for them to find a place,” Marsh said.

Classrooms for both of her sons – the younger one is entering third grade – were crowded, with 30 students per teacher, she said.

“This has been a problem the entire time my children have been at school there,” she said.

Construction under way at Alexandria Elementary is expected to alleviate such space concerns, adding 13 classrooms and new office space.

The school’s population over the last eight years has grown almost 30 percent, from 630 to 816 students, according to Principal Sally McClure. The first grade alone has grown from seven classrooms to 10.

“It’s being evenly distributed, the lower grades did have a big influx but they are progressively moving up and we’re not losing any (students),” McClure said. “The growth is not slacking off.”

Last year, McClure said, class sizes were at normal levels, but the school had taken some steps to avoid overcrowding. The special-education teachers lost their resource room and had to move from classroom to classroom to provide services to students; the school nurse moved to a smaller room, and the computer lab was converted into an additional classroom.

“Right now we are completely out of room,” McClure said.

Before a previous expansion five years ago, she said, the school was so crowded that the library had to be divided to create two classrooms.

Second-grade teacher Gayla Blanton said that the space problems have not affected classroom teaching.

“There’s not a problem with class size or anything like that, but the school was just absolutely full and the area’s still growing,” she said.

The number of people moving into the Alexandria school district, which is part of the county school system, has grown steadily in the last 10 years. Alexandria Elementary parent Marsh said she thinks the quality of the schools is a major factor in attracting new people to the area.

“It’s wonderful, I couldn’t say enough good things about the teacher and the principal and staff,” she said. “The teachers are all very positive and happy and upbeat and loving to the children … and our principal bends over backward to help the students.”

She said that despite the crowding she considers growth to be good for the community and the school.

McClure agreed that having more students reflects well on Alexandria. “When we run out of room it’s not good, but it also is flattering to know that they really believe and stand behind what we do here with our students,” she said.

McClure said she doesn’t think the ongoing construction will affect student learning. Blanton agreed. The initial work on the foundation in May was not disruptive, she said.

“It may be something new when we first get there, but kids easily adapt, so I don’t think it’s going to be a factor,” she said.

School officials expect the construction to be completed in January. In the next academic year, with the new classrooms finished, Alexandria fifth-graders will move from the high school to the elementary school building.

Alexandria Elementary also will add five teachers and a guidance counselor this year.

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