SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane Public Schools newest school will open its doors on Tuesday for the very first time.
Carla Peperzak Middle School is the last of three new schools that were a part of a half-billion dollar levy passed in 2018.
In our Boomtown series we track growth in our community. The new schools were added to address the growing enrollment in SPS. KREM 2 takes a look at class size trends over the last five years.
The Washington state class size average is the blue line which has held steady around 18 students. Spokane schools is the orange line, you can see it's above the state average, it took a dip during COVID, but is rebounding.
KREM 2’s Tim Pham took a look at how SPS is adjusting to meet the needs of a growing student population.
Before the first bell rings, Ms. Brittany Miotke is getting her fifth grade classroom ready for students. She has been a teacher for almost a decade and has seen how the school has changed.
Linwood is Spokane's largest public elementary school both in square footage and enrollment. Miotke said, “We were just growing by numbers, and every classroom was packed, but there were no more spaces to even hire another teacher."
Squeezed to the brim and in need of an upgrade.
Third grade teacher Heidi Lewis said, “Our school in particular, has grown from about 18, full time teachers to 27." She added that now they are in their new space, the school went from two teachers per grade to four.
During the 2020-2021 school year they took a hit, enrollment was at its lowest in at least the last 10 years. Three years later, the school district is rebounding with a projected enrollment at about 30,000 this year.
Spokane's rapid growth is not showing signs of slowing down which means neither is student enrollment. SPS Superintendent, Dr. Adam Swinyard said, “It's not the city that we remember, it's a city on the move, and our school district has to be planning and thinking about that, alongside other parts of our city."
Dr. Swinyard is in his fourth year leading SPS. He says the school district saw the writing on the wall. In the mid 2010’s, Spokane Schools were filling up. The district conducted research to make room and keep class sizes low.
Miotke said, “Having more students in the classroom just kind of spreads teacher resources and time thinner."
The solution was to move 6th graders up to middle school. Dr. Swinyard said, "And to do that we needed to increase the number of middle schools."
In 2018, voters approved a $495 million bond to replace three current middle schools: Shaw, Glover and Sacajawea. The bond also funded the addition of three new middle schools, Yasuhara, Flett and Peperzak. Dr. Swinyard said, “That has charted a course for us to establish these really low class sizes that we know are so important for our kids, as well as be able to accommodate the rapid growth that we're seeing in our city."
KREM 2 asked what a good class size is and where would SPS like to be as a district. Dr. Swinyard said, “It really depends on the grade level and the content that's being taught, and sometimes the level of support that's needed in the classroom."
If he had to put a number to it, Swinyard says about 18 for primary grades, 22 for intermediate, and less than 28 for middle and high school.
However, classroom sizes only tell a part of the story. About 75% of Linwood students qualify for free and reduced lunch. That number is up 6% in the last four years. Third grade teacher Heidi Lewis said, “That tells me that a lot of my students basic needs may not be met, they may come to school hungry, they may not have resources at home, they might not be able to complete their homework."
This represents new challenges for teachers to navigate. Miotke said, “Our school has grown, our community has grown, but the heart has remained the same."
Spokane Public Schools projected 2023 enrollment is just about 30,000 for the year. As KREM 2 sat down with Superintendent Swinyard, a middle school had 20 new enrollees that day alone. That is something Dr. Swinyard says has never happened before.
2024 is another levy year, Dr. Swinyard says there are no plans right now to build more schools but rather improve the ones they currently have.
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