School board, administration keeping close eye on enrollment figures

by Melissa Martin

Aug. 23 school board meeting

Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools Superintendent Jeff Harrison and the board of education plan to keep a close eye on the district’s enrollment figures because of a significant drop in the kindergarten class from last school year to 2023-24.

Current figures show 3,731 students enrolled in the district. Of those, 1,720 attend elementary school, 781 attend middle school and 1,230 the high school.

He pointed out that the 2023-24 kindergarten class of 257 is significantly smaller than last year’s kindergarten class of 290, which forced the district to create makeshift classrooms at the elementary school in areas intended to be open space.

Harrison said wants to see if this year’s first grade class, which is down to 288 students after two students were withdrawn from the district, will grow.

“We’re hoping to see if we end up in 250-260 range as the enrollment studies projected,” he said.

For the time being, Harrison said he thinks individual class sizes in the primary grades will remain optimal.

“If in pre-K to third grade we have 25 or less [students in a class], I don’t have a whole lot of heartburn,” he said, noting that this year’s kindergarten classrooms have 23 or fewer students. “Don’t get me wrong, as an educator we’d all like to see [class sizes capped at] 17, 18, 19 students, but we are trying to balance our educational priorities with fiscal responsibility.”

The same is true for first grade, where each of 12 sections have 24 students; second and third grades have 24-25 students each, Harrison said.

“Making sure that instructionally we are appropriately sized so that effective instruction can take place, that is what’s important,” he said.

Harrison said in the few weeks he’s been superintendent, he hasn’t had time to probe the district’s most recent enrollment study. However, he said that in his experience in the other districts, he has found these studies to be “extremely accurate.”

“You don’t always see it in the immediate, but when you start looking at the long term, they are pretty accurate for what they predict in terms of enrollment,” Harrison said. “The truth is enrollment fluctuates by the day. Many may not think we’re a transient community, but we’re a different type of transient community so we do have students coming and going on a daily basis.”

For that reason, school board President Mark Dosen said the board and administration plan to observe what he calls “the bubble grade,” which is this year’s first-grade class.

“We’re already looking at what’s going to happen in first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade and what not,” he said. “We’re planning and we know that’s a large group in that class.”

Harrison agreed, noting that the district has to be mindful of any fluctuations moving forward.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to put the no-vacancy sign out,” Harrison said.

Harrison told the board how the district has already responded to the bubble grade by converting open space in the elementary school to makeshift classrooms to allow for more first-graders. He showed photos of how areas were converted to kindergarten classrooms last year, and how glass partitions were added over the summer to make the space feel more like conventional classrooms. The partitions can be removed if enrollment subsides.

“The teachers are thrilled to be in there and have that space,” Harrison said.

Plans for Hilton Elementary

The school board and administration considered demolishing the former Hilton Elementary School late last school year, but Harrison said the district will postpone a final decision for a few more months.

“Every day we don’t have students and adults in that building the more it costs us to bring it back online,” Harrison said. “Also, when a building just sits vacant, a lot of things can go wrong with the building.”

Harrision said he toured the building two weeks earlier and said it is being well-kept and is in good condition.

“But at the same time, we cannot wait years to determine what we are going to do with Hilton,” he said.

Staying safe

Harrison informed the board that the district is required to provide lessons in safety and violence prevention this school year in accordance with Ohio House Bill 123.

Harrison said the district is required to include in grades 6 through 12 at least one hour, or one standard class period, of evidence-based instruction on three topics: suicide awareness and prevention, safety training and violence prevention and social inclusion.

“Most middle- and high-schoolers have encountered these lessons in one class or another, usually it falls to health [class],” he said, noting the bill requires schools to conduct three one-hour lessons on all three topics.

Harrison said that in accordance with Ohio law, there will be an opt-out form for parents who elect not to have their child involved in these discussions. ∞