By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
BIRMINGHAM — A long-rumored plan to move sixth grade students and alleviate overcrowding at Fultondale Elementary School is finally being put into place.
Sixth-graders will be moving up to Fultondale High School beginning with the coming school year, thanks to action approved by the Jefferson County Board of Education in their regular meeting Tuesday.
The move will switch four classrooms from the elementary school, which has suffered from severe overcrowding since it opened in January 2007. It's an issue that has been discussed for a very long time, according to elementary school principal Reta Hayes.
"I've been here nine years, and it's been talked about ever since then," Hayes said. "My predecessor said it was discussed for 15 years before that."
Hayes said that her school was built for 750 students, but finished the 2012-13 school year with 891. That was up from 881 to start the year, but down from a high of 903 near the Christmas break. Eight portable classrooms handle the overflow.
High school principal Dr. Stephanie Robinson said that the sixth graders would be set apart from the rest of the school population, with the classrooms adjacent to her own office. The new students would have their own class rotation and separate physical education classes from seventh and eighth grades; if plans work out, they will also have a separate lunch period, Robinson said.
“This will give them a little wiggle room at the elementary school, which they have absolutely none right now,” said Dr. Yancy Morris, the deputy superintendent of administrative services.
Morris said that Robinson and Hayes would be contacting the parents of sixth graders shortly with details of the change.
The move is admittedly a stopgap measure, as enrollment in the Fultondale feeder system continues to grow at a rate far outpacing the rest of the county system — by 16 percent in the last year, Morris told the board. Robinson said that her seventh and eighth grades already have more than 100 students each.
Superintendent Dr. Stephen Nowlin said this action will at least get them to a point in the near future when the system will have to take a serious look at new facilities — a move contingent on several circumstances, including whether Gardendale breaks away to form its own school system.
“It’s my estimate that in three years we’re going to have to build something,” Nowlin said. “But we need to know what Gardendale is going to do before we do something. We need to know if they’re going to pull out, and whether Mt. Olive goes with them or not. We could end up with 400 to 900 new students from that area that we would have to accommodate somewhere.”
While the rapid growth was largely what created a tipping point that prompted the move of sixth graders, it also brings the Fultondale into line with most other middle schools, which already have sixth through eighth grades.
In other action pertaining to local schools, the board:
[Edited at 1:50 p.m. to reflect a name change by the Alabama Outlawz football team.]