Dr. Justina Ford Elementary School in the Littleton district was built to serve a maximum capacity of 650 students, according to a presentation by the Long-Range Planning Committee (LRPC) at an Oct. 27 school board meeting. In its second year of operation, there are currently 707 students enrolled at Ford.
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Dr. Justina Ford Elementary School in the Littleton district was built to serve a maximum capacity of 650 students, according to a presentation by the Long-Range Planning Committee (LRPC) at an Oct. 27 school board meeting.
In its second year of operation, there are currently 707 students enrolled at Ford.
Some families have said the school’s overcrowding negatively impacts their students’ achievement. Other families are concerned about how possible solutions to overcrowding, such as changing the elementary school boundaries, would damage their children’s well-being.
At a Nov. 17 meeting, the school board voted unanimously for what they called the “Blue Option”: to not adjust elementary school boundaries at this time and to move forward with a districtwide demographic study and trend analysis to understand future numbers of elementary-aged kids in the district.
“Taking the time to get a full and complete picture of what the changes are in the district post-pandemic is not — in any way, shape or form — dragging our feet,” school board Treasurer Lindley McCrary said at the meeting. “It is making a responsible decision to not push the problem that is happening at Ford onto another school, and then potentially another school.”
Instead of the Blue Option, which the LRPC recommended in the Oct. 27 meeting, school board President Robert Reichardt proposed acting now to adjust boundaries for the 2023-2024 school year.
The adjustments would move the Heritage Greens neighborhood from Ford to Sandburg Elementary, and The Highlands, Four Lakes, Highland View and possibly Polo Run neighborhoods from Sandburg to Hopkins Elementary.
“We are absolutely kicking the can down the road by not addressing this problem now,” Reichardt said. “And whatever solution we have in the future is going to negatively impact families just like the solutions that we have on the table now.”
According to the LRPC presentation, Ford was built to be a four-round school, meaning there would be four classes in each grade level. Currently, Ford has five classes at the kindergarten and first-grade levels, and the highest average class sizes in the district for second and fourth grades.
Ford's average second-grade class size is 30.5 students, and the next highest is 28.67 students at Sandburg, according to the LRPC presentation. Ford's average fourth-grade class size is 29.25 students, followed by Gaskill with an average of 27.67.
Superintendent Brian Ewert said the district drew the Ford boundaries during the pandemic, when enrollment numbers were inconsistent across the state.
"We made the very best decisions that we could at the time that we made them. Were they perfect? Probably not," he said in an interview with CCM. "But I think that's true when you're dealing with these really complex issues of neighborhood catchments in schools and growing neighborhoods and shrinking neighborhoods and things like that."
To make space for the extra class sections, Ford reassigned some rooms, according to Principal Teresa Burden. For example, one kindergarten class now meets in what used to be the Gifted and Talented room, which was previously only used for a couple hours each day. The Gifted and Talented Program now utilizes other areas of the school to meet.
Ford parent Laura Wright said it’s important to consider how the overcrowding situation is affecting the amazing teachers at Ford.
“By not solving this problem, you’re telling these educators to just deal with it — and not only for this year, but for the foreseeable future as well,” she said at the Nov. 17 meeting.
Amanda Crosby, president of the Littleton Education Association that advocates for teachers, said the problem is not only over-enrollment at Ford, but also under-enrollment at other schools like Hopkins.
“That piece is completely being ignored in this entire debate. Hopkins should have more resources and would if they had the appropriate number of students,” she said in an interview with Colorado Community Media. “The bottom line is LPS has a resource allocation problem.”
Other parents said moving schools could damage their children’s mental health, especially for the many Littleton Public Schools students who have already moved schools in recent years due to previous boundary changes.
“I’m sure your children benefited from that which was continuous and stable in their childhood, as did you,” LPS parent Meghan Henning said to the board. “Life throws enough curveballs, and even pandemics now. We do not need a board elected to protect and serve our children to add to their mental health concerns. We need data.”
Elizabeth McCullough, a Sandburg parent, said children deserve consistency.
“To rip children from their communities, especially without any data, is unfounded and it is rash,” she said at the meeting.
According to Ewert, the district is finalizing its contract with a demographer who will develop a detailed plan of the upcoming demographic study.
During these next steps, Burden said the school’s staff would continue to do everything they can to have a successful upcoming school year.
“I think absolutely having 50 extra kids does impact us in many ways, just like other things impact other schools in different ways,” she said. “But our goal here is to … do the very best that we can for kids, no matter what we are given.”
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