Another jump in the number of kindergartners in local schools has officials scrambling again to find space for them.
FORT WALTON BEACH — Another jump in the number of kindergartners in local schools has officials scrambling again to find space for them.
A year after an unexpected increase of 5-year-old enrollees forced elementary schools to hire teachers at the last minute and find space for new classrooms, it’s happening again.
“Unfortunately, our kindergarten parents will wait to register until a day or two before kindergarten starts or after it starts,” said Riverside Elementary School Principal Marlene Van Dyke. “We can all speculate (based) on what happened five or six years ago … but essentially no one had any idea.”
At her school in Crestview, 60 kindergartners made a surprise appearance less than a week before school began. Today, she has 11 kindergarten classes and only about six open seats left before state class-size requirements would force her to start a new class.
Every classroom as well as a computer lab and two small rooms off the media center are full, and Van Dyke has had to request two portable classrooms.
But rainy weather and similar demands for portables across Okaloosa County left four classes of kindergartners sharing classrooms until the portables were ready.
Teachers at Riverside weren’t the only ones sharing rooms. Longwood Elementary in Shalimar has teachers doubling up in one room while they wait for four portable classrooms to be ready.
It’s the second year in a row the school has seen a larger-than-anticipated group of kindergartners.
In an ideal world, portables can be relocated and set up within a week. But it hasn’t been a perfect start to the year, according to Deputy Superintendent of Schools Rodney Nobles.
Even as rain and maintenance issues caused delays, some of the portables also had to have their bathrooms refitted to accommodate requirements for kindergarten classrooms.
Nobles said all the portables will be ready by the end of the week.
Superintendent Alexis Tibbetts said while the growth has been surprising, it also is welcome, especially in the south end of the county where enrollment has been declining for years.
“We were very excited that we were seeing some growth at Longwood,” Tibbetts said.
Okaloosa hasn’t been alone in its kindergarten increase. Santa Rosa and Walton counties also saw jumps once again.
About 100 students of the 300-student increase seen in Walton County are kindergartners, according to Superintendent of Schools Carlene Anderson.
“The children that are coming are young children,” said Anderson, who added that most of the growth was in the south end.
Santa Rosa County Superintendent of Schools Tim Wyrosdick said the county has seen more kindergartners in the Holley-Navarre area than last year, which had an increase from the year before.
Educators said they can’t say whether the trend will continue.
“We’re all sitting on pins and needles going, ‘OK was that just a one-year spike or is next year going to follow a similar trend?’ ” Van Dyke said. “If there was any way we could get those registrations by the first of July, that would be awesome. But that’s not going to happen and that’s OK.”