No room at Central High

Friday, August 4, 2017
Shelbyville Central High School students enjoy lunch on Thursday, the first full day of classes. The school is over capacity and has added temporary seating in some areas of the cafeteria until new permanent fixtures arrive, said Principal Tim Harwell.
T-G Photo by Jason M. Reynolds

Shelbyville Central High School students enjoy lunch on Thursday, the first full day of classes. The school is over-capacity and has added temporary seating in some areas of the cafeteria until new permanent fixtures arrive, said Principal Tim Harwell (not pictured here).

SCHS Principal Tim Harwell looks over a list of teachers Wednesday. Crowding is such that the 76 teachers are using every conceivable space for classes.It's supposed to be Cascade High that is crowded beyond capacity as the county government grapples with financing the construction of a new school. So some may be surprised to learn Shelbyville Central, which opened a new wing in 2008 according to a memorial plaque in the school, has breached its capacity limit.

SCHS has an all-time-high enrollment of 1,562 students and 76 teachers, about 150 students more than last year, Principal Tim Harwell said. The student count could change as the new year gets underway.

SCHS Principal Tim Harwell looks over a list of teachers Wednesday. Crowding is such that 76 teachers are using every conceivable space for classes.
T-G Photo by Jason M. Reynolds

The 2008 wing brought the school's capacity up to 1,400. The original building opened in 1977.

(Cascade High's enrollment Thursday was 489, up slightly from 483 last year, said Principal Josh Young.)

No rooms available

SCHS is out of space for classrooms, he said. Every available room is being used for instruction, including the lecture hall.

"We've had to be creative where we put teachers," said Harwell, who was Cascade High's principal until this summer.

Mobile education likely

The school has two ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers but needs a third, but they are in high demand and hard to find. The new ESL teacher could be fit into an existing classroom, he said, but the addition of any more teachers would force him to start telling some teachers to pack their supplies on a cart. That teacher would roll the cart down the hall to find a classroom in which the assigned teacher has a planning period during that block of time, meaning the room could be used for the roomless teacher.

"Is that the best situation for a new teacher you're hiring? No," he said. "We don't want to do that. We have difficulty recruiting and keeping teachers. We don't want to tell them, 'Oh, by the way, you don't have a classroom.'"

Portables possible

Having worked as principal at Cascade High, which has 14 rooms in seven trailers, Harwell is well familiar with portable buildings. Superintendent Don Embry recently said portables may be needed at SCHS. That is a possibility for the next academic year, Harwell said.

The overcrowding is not likely to get better as Harris Middle's current enrollment was in the high 360s this week, Harwell said. Harris and Liberty feed their students into SCHS. Central's new freshman class from those two schools combined is a record 429. That compares to the current senior class of 325, the smallest of the four grade levels.

More students coming

Enrollment next year should top 1,600, he said.

"As an administrator every year you look at the numbers," he said.

Central's staff is working with the crowding as best as it can with an eye to maintaining an acceptable student-to-teacher ratio, especially in English and math. The Bedford County Emergency Management Agency told him that the school has the largest concentration of people in any one facility at the same time in the county.

Separate from the overcrowding issue yet another concern is the future of Central's vocational building which is off campus behind the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Shelbyville. The Board of Education and Bedford County Commission has discussed the college's offer to buy the building and add a vocational wing to the main campus, but the issue is still unresolved.

"We're going to make the best of our situation," Harwell said.

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