CRESTVIEW — Some north Okaloosa County schools have reported increased student populations due to military presence.
The 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) brought more than 2,200 personnel to Eglin Air Force Base in 2010. Nearly 3,000 children ages 5 to 18 attend north county schools, Lt. Col. James Brownlee, a public affairs officer with the group, said. Forty-eight percent of the Special Forces’ personnel have made the Hub City their home, particularly due to its affordable housing near base.
Brownlee said the number of military personnel is expected to grow.
"With the coming of our Regional Support Element and other support elements, our increase may be as great as 500 more soldiers, who will most likely all be here by this September," he said.
Crestview High School
VIDEO: See "Related Media" at top left for interviews with some north Okaloosa principals.
Crestview High School has seen incremental increases in student population since the military installment’s arrival, principal Bob Jones said.
Prior to military installation, the school enrolled around 450 to 500 incoming freshmen; it expects 600 students for the 2013-14 school year, he said.
Classrooms are at capacity, Jones said.
"If I have two more classes that we have to add, then we will have to have a teacher that is roving, meaning that (he or she) isn't going to be in the same classroom all day.”
Portable classrooms also are a possibility, he said.
The school may add staffers to meet more than 1,800 students’ needs, Jones said.
Academically, CHS may restart the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education program, which offers advanced courses and college credit.
"Were also looking at adding some additional technical and career courses for next year," including construction technology and cosmetology, Jones said.
Baker School, a K-12 institution, has received steady growth in elementary grade levels, with 635 kindergartners through fifth-graders, according to administrators.
"I think the 7th Special Forces coming has had an impact," principal Thomas Shipp said. "We had some subdivisions built locally that have attracted them."
Finding room for the growth has causes concern.
"Right now, we have seven classes in portables and we don't have any regular classroom space available," Shipp said. "So if we have another 2 percent growth for next year, we are going to have to do some figuring."
An option is converting one of four computer labs into a classroom.
"We have a science lab that we use for elementary and middle school, and that may have to become a classroom," Shipp said. "We hate to lose that, because that is something we worked hard to build up, which is ironic because as our numbers grow, we will need that computer lab more and more."
Administrators believe the school district will help find solutions for the overflow.
"I think the district's trying to look ahead and plan for that, so hopefully an action will be taken so that we can free up some space," Shipp said.
Meanwhile, Baker’s curriculum is expanding to include culinary arts, a welding class and a childcare program in which students can earn a Child Development Associate credentials.
Laurel Hill School
Military influx had no noticeable effect on Laurel Hill School’s population, principal Susan Lowery-Sexton said.
"Our student population has been stable for the past seven years," she said. "We usually have around 450 students."
Lowery-Sexton said her school could facilitate growth, if it happens. Around 80 students already attend LHS on waivers that allow students to attend a school outside their designated zone.
Last fall, Laurel Hill became the county’s first school to offer an iPad-based curriculum.
"Our main interest is to increase the technology use in the school," Lowery-Sexton said. "It’s a great opportunity for kids to be prepared for an electronic society and gain those skills that make them competitive."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.