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Hamilton County elementary schools are over capacity

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Overcrowding in Hamilton County schools is a problem across the district, but schools inside the city are some of the highest over capacity.

It's hard to find an extra seat at Orchard Knob Elementary. With 625 students, the growing school is running out of space.

"It's a struggle to even find an extra desk or an extra chair for the students that are coming in," said Principal LaFrederick Thirkill.

Thirkill said he needs to hire another 5th grade teacher, but he's out of classrooms.

"I have six 3rd grade classes that are feeding into five 4th grade classes that are feeding into four 5th grade classes," he explained. "So as you can imagine, it gets very tight in the 5th grade."

Overcrowding is an issue across Hamilton County, but especially the elementary schools inside city limits.

East Lake Elementary is 133 percent above capacity; Calvin Donaldson Elementary, 109 percent; Orchard Knob Elementary, 106 percent; and East Side Elementary, 102 percent. Clifton Hills Elementary is 100% at capacity.

"We make use of every available space that we have in this building for our children," said Joyce Lancaster, Principal of East Lake Elementary, which is the most overcrowded school in the district.

Enrollment at ELES has more than doubled in the last 10 years to 655 students. The building's capacity is 493 students.

To make room for more classrooms, the music room was transformed into two classrooms and speech therapy is held inside a custodian closet. Other creative classroom shuffling happens regularly.

"It's a wonderful little school," said Lancaster. "We've just outgrown it."

School board members have suggested re-zoning, but future plans are still unclear and money is an issue. Superintendent Rick Smith suggests working with county commissioners to receive more funding. It will likely be discussed at the next board meeting on Thursday.

School Patrol

David Carroll covers education news and issues at schools across the Tennessee Valley.


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