School board votes unanimously to create classroom space, reduce overcrowding

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In anticipation of higher enrollment, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously at a meeting last Wednesday to create new classroom space at elementary schools for the next two school years.

Board president Judy Appel said she expects Berkeley schools to see a surge of up to 100 new students in the coming school year. Most of the new additions will be kindergarteners and transitional kindergarteners – students with fall birthdays who are too young to enroll in regular kindergarten.

“It’s great that our schools (in Berkeley) are thought of highly and in a good light,” said Paco Furlan, principal of Rosa Parks Elementary School. “It’s a good problem to have.”

To accommodate the surplus of students, multipurpose rooms at Jefferson Elementary and Rosa Parks Elementary will be converted into classroom spaces. If three classrooms are needed in total, three transitional kindergarten classes at the King Child Development Center will be partially consolidated instead, followed by the conversion of multipurpose rooms at the two elementary schools as needed.

If the rooms at Jefferson Elementary School and Rosa Parks Elementary School wind up being used, each of those transitional kindergarten classes will be capped at 15 students. Such an addition to Rosa Parks Elementary School “seems like something we can absorb just fine without a disruption in service,” Furlan said. But having to accommodate many more than the 15 expected students, he said, would put pressure on the school, which serves approximately 450 students.

Appel said the King Child Development Center will be most affected by the school board’s decision and said she anticipated the need to hire a coordinator to assist the principal. She said the school board’s proposed changes would create an opportunity to build more support for the center.

To ensure that there will be room for the incoming kindergarteners to move on to higher grades, the board unanimously voted to begin the planning process for installing seven portables — three each at Thousand Oaks Elementary and LeConte Elementary, and one portable at John Muir Elementary — in the 2016-17 school year.

Prior to the meeting Wednesday, the board decided that it was too soon to talk about future plans, according to Appel. Although Berkeley needs another elementary school site, she said, the board does have enough information to make a long-term decision at this point.

One contingency plan involves replacing the Berkeley Adult School with an elementary school. Although the board did not discuss the issue, more than 200 people, including more than 100 of the adult school’s students and faculty members, held signs during the meeting, and several spoke during public comment, according to Berkeleyside.

“We hear input from the community and are taking it to heart,” Appel said. “All members of board value those programs.”

The board will ask its staff to make recommendations at the next meeting, Feb. 11, regarding plans in the event that six to eight classrooms are needed, as well as more planning details for portables, including their cost. The board expects to have more concrete numbers for fall enrollment by Feb. 10.

Contact Amy Jiang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ajiang_dc.