The 2018-2019 Oyster River High School student population has exceeded 800 students, creating cause for both celebration and concern. Although the increase in students has added to the school’s diversity, topics such as parking and scheduling remain large issues for the school.
With a current enrollment of 817* students (649 living within the district and 168 paying tuition), the high school is at its highest population to date and is higher than ORCSD Long Term Planning Committee’s estimate of 795 high school students, made in November 2017. The senior class is the smallest with 185 students, followed by the sophomore and junior classes at 209 and 207 students respectively. The freshman class is the largest with 216 students.
Breakdown of Oyster River High School By Grade and Tuition v. District *
*as of August 8th, 2018
Although the school’s population has only increased by 24 students from the 2017-2018 population of 793 total students, previous issues such as the limited parking at the school and the elective-based scheduling have become much more apparent. On the other hand, more students at the high school creates diversity and increases numbers in both classes and extracurriculars.
Parking at the high school is limited and has been an issue for the school in the past. Mark Milliken, ORHS Dean of Faculty, said they have at most 230 spots available for students, assuming that not everyone is driving every day. Seniors who submit their paperwork before the deadline, around the second week of school, are guaranteed parking and remaining spots are put into a lottery for juniors.
This year, Milliken estimated that seniors occupy 160 of the available spaces, leaving the 100-125 junior applicants to vie for roughly 70 remaining spots. Additionally, the school offers 15 off-site parking spaces at the Durham Evangelical Church with transportation to and from the church both before and after school for students that did not get a parking pass.
Emily Schuman (‘20) applied for a parking pass but due to the limited quantity initially did not get a spot. She acknowledged that before her junior year, parking didn’t affect her but she said, “going into junior year, I was excited because I had a license finally, so I could get a parking pass.”
After learning she didn’t get a pass, she immediately felt stressed. “I didn’t have very many options when I didn’t get one,” she said. Schuman, who plays the cello in the orchestra, needed a way to transport her instrument to school daily, but the busses do not permit her to. After a week of the lottery, students who have not provided proof of license or finished the application forfeit their pass, which allowed Schuman the ability to park. However, not all students were fortunate enough to receive a pass.
Milliken added that due to the higher number of juniors who did not receive a pass, he’s, “had the most negative interactions with parents and students over parking this year than over most any other issue since I’ve been here.”
As with previous years, the issue of parking will only get worse with size. Both the current sophomore and junior classes are around 210 students, meaning next year almost 400 students will contend for 230 spots. The school is looking into other options, including but not limited to, offering senior-only and off-site parking for the future years.
Although parking has become more of a challenge, a larger student body creates more diversity. Teachers, faculty, and students have noticed benefits from the increase in students. Jason Baker, a counselor at the high school, mentioned noticeable diversity. “In my sixth year here, this is the first, maybe second year, that there’s a diversity club,” Baker added.
Elliot Moore, a French teacher at the high school agreed, saying, “bigger does allow for more variety in school clubs and different things that are offered.” She has also noticed more diversity at the school, but more so in a socioeconomic sense.
Leisey Parsons (‘19) highlighted more opportunities, opinions, and diversity as some of the positives of having a larger school. “I think that the increase in the student population allows for collaborations with other types of students,” said Parsons.
The Oyster River Cooperative School District sets a classroom maximum at 22 students, which is lower than the state maximum of 25 students, according to a December 2011 OR Advisory Budget Committee report. Although this prevents classes from getting too big, some students have noticed that classroom are bigger than in previous years.
“There’s just a lot of kids in the class which kind of makes it harder,” said Trinity Chase (‘21) about her math and science classes this year. “It’s easier for me when there are less students because you get to know the teacher better and it’s easier to learn,” she added, mentioning that in a smaller class, she gets more individual attention.
A bigger student population additionally creates more scheduling conflicts. In nearly all areas of study, subjects are elective based, meaning students have the option to select their classes based on their interests. For example, after completing Essentials of English their freshman year, students are provided with a myriad of options to complete their remaining English credits.
While the elective based system allows for students to select classes they are genuinely interested in, sections that are open to students of all grade levels fill up quickly and some students are unable to get their first preference.
Baker explained that although there are many options for students, “if we have so many kids who want just a select few electives, all those other ones that we want to offer, we can’t because we have to offer more sections of the more popular electives.” Students who sign up for electives based on their future academic goals might miss out.
Jane Spear (‘19) hasn’t noticed much of a change, however scheduling has been a problem for her. Spear brought up that although the schedule allows for a lot of freedom, students who take AP courses have trouble fitting in all of the classes they want to take because the APs are only offered during certain periods.
Back in 2011, the high school was facing the opposite issue. Enrollment in the school district declined after the high school was renovated in 2006. The school was struggling to find enough students interested to make many AP classes run. The school board was faced with a difficult decision in order to preserve funds: fire 5 teachers to save $500,000 or add 100 more tuition students to gain $1.3 million.
The school board looked at both Barrington and Newmarket to bring in tuition students at a suggested $14,500 per student. In March of 2014, the towns of Durham, Lee, and Madbury voted on Article 6, which proposed a 10 year contract with Barrington and stated that the number of tuition students would start 125 and then increase by 20% each year until a maximum of 200 students is reached. The school would use the additional funds, “to maintain and expand programs and lower tax impact,” according to ORCSD’s 2014 School Warrant, detailing the March 2014 articles.
Article 6 passed with 1,291 people voting in favor of the merge with Barrington. A contract was made with Barrington and since then, the high school population has not only restored, but surpassed the previous number of students. The school currently has 168 tuition students which is within the margins set in place by Article 6, but the unpredictability of enrollment can create uncertainty when planning for future years.
Lisa Allison has been the chair of the Long Term Planning Committee (LTPC) for about 15 years. The group is responsible for creating enrollment projections every fall so that the school board can have accurate numbers when planning for the following year. Part of the number projection inconsistencies this year come from the tuition students. “We predicted to have 40 freshman [from Barrington] and we got 51,” said Allison, summarizing that 11 students were unaccounted for in the November 2017 estimate.
Allison explained that this year’s enrollment projections were very accurate, estimating the number of first graders perfectly. In order to determine the following year’s numbers, the LTPC uses Grade Progression Ratios (GPR) and historical data. To calculate a grade’s GPR, divide the number of students at the end of the previous year by the number of enrolled students at the beginning of the following year. The closer this number is to 1, the more likely the students are to stay at the school. The GPR’s for the Oyster River School District in grades 2-12 are very close to 1, with the exception of 8th and 9th grade due to students going away to private schools.
Since the addition of tuition students, the school has needed to hire more teachers. However, without the ability to create additional rooms, some teachers do not get their own classroom. These teachers often use a cart to travel from classroom to classroom.
Moore travels from classroom to classroom for her French 1 and French 3 classes. Although she said that this can be frustrating at times, she understands that there are no other solutions available, save construction. “If they had any options available, they would obviously give them to me,” said Moore.
For some students, this can be challenging since the classrooms lack resources that are typically available. “My French teacher, Mrs. Moore, she’s in a Spanish classroom, which is just not great because it has Spanish things all over the walls,” said Chase, adding that she enjoys having posters on the walls to serve as helpful reminders.
Looking to the positives, Moore said that her moving classroom forces her to prepare in advance for her lessons. “It also keeps me organized and a little bit more streamlined and with the way we’re teaching world language, it’s a little easier because we’re using a lot more authentic resources which are online,” said Moore.
For some, the increase in students has little to no effect. Andy Lathrop, ORHS Athletic Director, said his job hasn’t changed much with the increase in students. “Last year was my first year, but from what I’ve understood here, it’s always almost 65%-75% participation in athletics by the student body anyway,” said Lathrop, adding that an increase in 20-30 students hasn’t been cause for concern.
Numbers in sports have increased slightly, but if anything, Lathrop thinks it’s been a positive experience. Additional athletes can make varsity teams more competitive, since there are more athletes than spots. Lathrop added, “I think that there are times that you may struggle to get a JV team in some sports and the more kids that are here, the less likely that is to happen.” Without a JV team, enthusiastic athletes are cut and don’t get the opportunity to play.
Lathrop claims that the increase in students has benefited the athletic department. “I’m all for it. I want as many kids as we can playing sports,” said Lathrop.
Milliken concluded, “we’re working on solutions that may end up with some off course offering changes. It’s easier to be more flexible with the schedule if you’re not maxed out with numbers.”
It’s clear that school size is affecting ORHS faculty and students, since having more students provides more diversity and opportunities, but can also make parking and the elective-based system a challenge to navigate. The administration at the high school is actively working to create solutions for the growing amount of students and families.