Is overcrowding at school what it seems?

Overcrowding in Washington-Liberty high school has been a major topic of discussion  for a while, but this year student numbers aren’t affecting overcrowding. As student numbers continue to stay consistent, or even decrease, each department of staff has lost at least one teacher. Inevitably, it is the classes that are beginning to crowd, not the school. 

 “The budget determines everything about the classes,” Assistant Principal Ms. Claire Peters said in regards to class sizing. According to her, the amount of staff at the school is determined by what the budget can cover. A budget directed toward the construction of new schools, veering away from staff, causes fewer teachers and larger numbers of students in classes. 

With teacher downsizing, an illusion of overcrowding is created with the same number of students. “Our overall number stayed about the same, but the class size’s maximum went up,” Ms. Peters explained. 

Surprisingly, the data given by the school’s director of counseling, Ms. Jessica Gregory is more drastic than expected. The number of students in the 2020 class has decreased by 132 people from 2016-2019. Ms. Gregory explained how the current freshman class of 575 will probably fall to 500 students by their senior year. If these statistics stay constant, the schools future will consist of a decreasing student body, allowing the already restrictive budget to cover the needs of all students and resources. 

As of now, IB English teacher Ms. Sarah Becker was one of the teachers most affected by student numbers. The maximum number of students in core classes, as required by Arlington Public Schools (APS), is 28.5 to 1 teacher. One of her English classes spent the first week of the school year with 37 students total, forcing late students to sit on the floor. Although this class was recovered by splitting between two teachers, she is still surprised by the ever-changing number of students between her classes. 

However, these fluctuating class sizes have varying effects. While some classes became overcrowded, making it more difficult for students to work one-on-one with teachers, others seemed to have fewer than average sizes, making it easier for students and teachers to communicate. Whatever the circumstance may be, Ms. Becker, with another one of her classes of only 10, explains, “It was a way to kind of show students teachers have to be as flexible as, sometimes, we ask them to be.”

Another factor affecting class size is demand for schedule change after the beginning of a new school year. In fact, even the start of the school year may be too late, or just more difficult, to make a schedule change. The schedules were created in May of last school year, so, when multiple students demand one class after they decide scheduling, this leads to oversizing. This change is passed on to the counselors, who carry most of the workload. 

With the already high ratio of students to teachers, counselors had to create new accommodations. Ms. Gregory, said, “We’ve had to get creative and go over to three luches a few years ago, some of those times just got too crowded.” As all students have experienced, lunches are now split into A, B, and C timing, beginning after GP and ending after 5th period. 

Another one of those creative solutions were A.M. classes.  For those unfamiliar with A.M. classes, they’re an alternative class offered from 7:30-8:10 A.M. in place of the same class during regular school hours. This allows students to have a free period during school, “It really just takes away the need throughout the year for the classroom space,” Ms. Gregory further commented on classroom changes, explaining that “we’ve had to use classrooms differently, a lot of teachers are moving around more.”

APS is and will continue to expand drastically. As of now more than two new schools are being built in Arlington alone. With perceived overcrowding now, the future demands even more accommodations with a widening student body. However, there is still a possibility that the budget may increase or student size decrease. No matter the situation, school staff feel they have it covered. In regards to the issues presented this year and in the perceived future, Ms. Gregory assures,  “We keep expanding our offerings and what students want, we will put out there.”