Gentry Middle School Overflowing With Students

Related Story

COLUMBIA - Gentry Middle School has a lower enrollment rate this year than last year, but crowding still seems to be an issue.

Some parents voiced concern about crowding to the school's principal, Jeffrey Beiswinger.

He said the concerns are natural.

"When you're marked as the school that's got the highest enrollment of the middle schools, there's going to be questions," Beiswinger said. "But we did a lot of work on the front end to prepare for this and we were very well-prepared when August came around."

Gentry has the highest enrollment rate compared to Jefferson, Lange, Oakland, Smithton and West Middle Schools, but Beiswinger said this year's enrollment actually lower 2012-2013.

"Last year, we ran about 903 kids at our highest mark," Beiswinger said. "This year, we started the school year with 845 students and we lost a few due to moving to another school or another district, so today we're sitting at about 830."

Even with a lower enrollment rate, the Gentry faculty and the school board made some changes to handle the number of students.

"We realized that we needed a couple of extra teachers here," Beiswinger said.

Gentry also spaced out students' lockers to reduce crowding in the hallways, and to make the transitions between classes easier.

"It's really hard to plan that in advance until you can actually see where the areas that need to be adjusted are," Beiswinger said.

Seventh grader Ji-Sung Lee said she couldn't tell the difference.

"My locker just moved, but one thing I noticed is that considering more people here, they also have to use locks," Lee said. "It just feels like it's gotten bigger."

It's Lee's first year as a transfer student from Columbia Independent School and she said crowding is definitely an issue.

"I knew it was going to be bigger than my old school, but I didn't think it was going to be this big," Lee said. "I can feel that it's tighter in the hallways, and it's harder to get from class to class."

Jerry and Stephanie Kellher's sixth grader is also new to Gentry this year.

"It's her first year as far as moving classrooms, yet she hasn't complained about the size or anything at all."

Gentry averages 24 to 26 students in a single classroom.

Beiswinger said the maximum number in a core class would be 28, but there are a couple of elective classes that may have 30 to 31, which is more than usual.

"We have 840 students, and you're going to have some crowded situations from time to time," Beiswinger said. "However, the secret is making sure we address those as soon as we can, and look at the strategy to get that corrected, which we've done."

He said he is very pleased with what Gentry was able to accomplish by moderating class sizes to what he calls acceptable ranges.

Currently, Gentry's boundary lines stretch out east to Highway 63, south down to Providence Road and Route K and North towards Nifong Blvd.

There is also a natural boundary cross with Jefferson Middle to the North and with Oakland and Lange Middle schools at the east.

Some students living on Green Meadows Road go to Gentry while others go to Jeff.

Parent Robin Ibdah said this is where the real problem is.

"It's the way the district was divided up," she said. "If you live across the street from Nifong Blvd, you can't go to Gentry. I know several families have been impacted by it that live across the street because they bought a house thinking their kids would go to Gentry."

The board president for Columbia Public Schools (CPS) said Gentry could not house everybody in that radius.

"I think that what people will start to find is that all the other middle schools are great," Christine King said. "So, parents just have to make the choice of what's best for their child."

She said the board would make boundary lines if Gentry continues to grow.

"People would have to understand that we're not going have a middle school reach 900 to 1,000 kids," King said.

Transfer students add to the enrollment rate, but Beiswinger said the number of transfers was not the greatest contributing factor to the increase of students.

King said most transfer requests are made if a parent, who is an employee of a certain school, wishes his/her child goes to that same school.

"All employee transfers are generally granted," King said. "Most are granted assuming there's room. Also, some legacies were approved, if a sibling goes to a certain school, we usually approve the other to go with the sibling, once again, assuming there's room."

King said a total of 311 transfer requests were made at all secondary levels this year, and only about half of those were granted.

"At the Gentry level, only 34 transfers were granted out of 69," King said.

King said she does not believe transfers are the cause for the high enrollment rate at Gentry.

She said she questions some reasons for transfers.

"A family may tell somebody something else, but the reality is, what they tell us is probably different than what they tell their neighbors. We did not grant transfers based on where they live or their best friend."

"Have people moved? Probably, yeah," King said. "Have they legitimately moved? That would be up to the family to

The CPS went through a significant change this summer with its school system, going from four transition phases to three.

Students will now go to elementary school, middle school (including sixth, seventh and eighth grade) and four years of high school.

King said she thinks the significant change is what is causing a panic among some parents.

"We'll learn, we'll grow, we'll make tweaks and adjustments," King said. "And next year, we'll be better next year. I think it's been very well for the transitions that took place this year."