Board seeks overcrowding solution for NRHS

Published 9:18 pm Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Nansemond River High School could get up to 10 trailers by the start of second semester in January to help alleviate overcrowding.

With the school’s attendance at 1,584 students through Sept. 12, there are 90 more students than the facility’s capacity, and several School Board members have suggested the use of trailers as a possible solution.

Board members Sherri Story and Karen Jenkins said at its September meeting that the overcrowding at the school is affecting morale, with teachers using carts as they share classroom space. Story suggested that the school add trailers to alleviate the overcrowding, while Jenkins said Nansemond River “seriously has a problem.”

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“I was there on the first day,” Jenkins said. “I saw teachers with carts. I don’t know what can happen … but to have low morale on the first day of school is not good. We need to resolve it as quickly as possible.”

Board member David Mitnick said that with a new high school not on the horizon anytime in the near future, something needs to be done to deal with the overcrowding at Nansemond River now. He also suggested using the trailers, which are also called mobile units.

He asked whether the Southeastern Cooperative Educational Program, or SECEP, classes at the school need to be there, or whether they could perhaps be moved to Lakeland High School. He said given the small sizes of the SECEP classes, it could be an option to move them to relieve the overcrowding at Nansemond River.

Interim Superintendent Dr. LaToya Harrison said most of the students who are in the SECEP program at Nansemond River are in their zoned school. She said the school division would have to evaluate its contract with SECEP to determine whether other options to host the program would be a possibility.

Vice Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck, who used to chair the SECEP board of directors, cautioned against moving SECEP classrooms. She said that people with severe disabilities have to be served in different ways, and that their space cannot simply be moved to other classrooms.

“Those children need and deserve the same things that other children have,” Brooks-Buck said. “And I would take great exception to taking their class and putting them somewhere else just because we have space somewhere else. If they are Nansemond River students, they have the right to be at Nansemond River.”

Brooks-Buck said the board should wait until the facilities study is complete before deciding on whether to shift students in and out of schools. Board member Lorita Mayo said no discussion on rezoning should continue until the study is complete.

Mitnick also asked whether some students in the northern part of the city along Route 17 currently zoned for Nansemond River could be sent to King’s Fork High School instead.

Mitnick also said “it’s time for us to have a discussion” on rezoning.

Story said the issue of overcrowding at Nansemond River is separate from rezoning, and said trailers, while they can’t be put in immediately, could be installed by the start of the second semester. She asked that the school division hold a meeting with the faculty of the school to determine what they want.

“They have real classroom issues right now,” Story said. “They have multiple teachers moving room to room, and they have very large classes. … Nansemond River has a lot of students, and there’s a bigger picture, but looking for some help this year is important for teacher morale and for effective teaching.”

“If we can show them we are trying to resolve this issue and be as quick as possible, and not just say this is what it is and you have to accept it, I don’t accept it,” Jenkins said, “because our teachers are who we need for our students, and that’s what we’re here for.”

Harrison said using Driver for SECEP or other programs is not possible for legal reasons, and because it is cost prohibitive due to renovations it would need.

Director of Facilities and Planning Terry Napier said using Driver is a non-starter because it would take too much time and money to get it to a point where it would be suitable to have students there.

“At this point, Driver’s not fit for anything other than storage. … I would not recommend that you put any program at Driver at all,” Napier said. “I don’t want my child at Driver. Driver is in a state of disrepair.”

Napier said there is enough space to fit about eight to 10 trailers, that could hold up to 300 students, at Nansemond River on a practice field behind the school. He said that while the trailers could be moved into place without much difficulty, Napier said the challenge comes from Dominion Energy and putting power into the trailers. They would also have to be wired for internet access, have communications and data infrastructure and meet fire regulations.

Napier said it would cost about $100,000 to move mobile units and set them up.

“If we started doing it now, we may be able to get them open by second semester,” Napier said.

The first day of the second semester is Jan. 30, 2020.

“To make it happen by January,” Napier said, “we have to move on this fairly quickly.”