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Llewellyn Elementary School struggles with swelling enrollment

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - The parent of a second and a fifth grader at Llewellyn Elementary School talks with Principal Steve Powell, as school lets out.As school ended last year, it was clear that Llewellyn Elementary School’s student population was increasing.

During several meetings, Portland Public Schools (PPS) officials listened to parents’ complaints about Llewellyn’s overcrowded conditions.

Then, PPS Director of Enrollment and Transfer Joan Brennan and Regional Administrator told Llewellyn and Duniway parents at a May 31 meeting at Sellwood Middle School, “We don’t want to rush through a boundary change that overlooks neighborhood concerns.”

Just days later, the school district issued this announcement: “No further boundary change proposals will be developed during the summer.” THE BEE reported that at the time. And sure enough, there weren’t any.

When the first ringing of hall bells signaled the start of the start of the 2012-13 school year, Llewellyn’s staff found itself teaching almost fifty more students, up from the 443 students of the previous year.

“We were projected to have between 76 and 100 kindergartners,” Principal Steve Powell told THE BEE. “We came in at 92 students; so we have four kindergarten ‘sections’, with about 20 students in each class.”

The school was staffed for 490 students in grades one through five; “We have 493 – three more than projected.”

To accommodate the large fifth-grade class, “We moved the 34-station computer lab from its upstairs classroom down to the library, to free up an additional fifth-grade classroom.”

It’s a good idea to have a “media center” located in the school’s library Powell said. “The problem is, we’ve had to jam everything in a very small, but workable, space.”

The increase of students did additional staffing to the school, Powell observed.

The librarian’s office is now being used for the school psychologist, because the increased enrollment triggered moving from a half-time to a full-time counselor.

“Some of our teaching staff is working in hallways; a speech pathologist is working out of our nurse’s room. It’s really tight for some of the specialists who come to visit us; they don’t have the best circumstances in which to work. We have had to make some major modifications in some of our room usage this year.”

A staff workroom stocked with supplies, copy machine, and a die cutting machine became the half-time “resource room”. And, added Powell, “Because of our increase in enrollment, we’ve also had an increase in our Special Education population.”

Except for two hours a day, the staff lunchroom has been turned into teacher’s workroom.

Yet, when he was asked if Llewellyn students are still getting a good education, Powell replied, “Yes, most assuredly. The teachers are outstanding; we have excellent, phenomenal teachers. I would match our teaching corps with any staff, at any school in the city.”

An ironic situation, Principal Powell added, is that parents of fourth and fifth graders want the school to add an additional teacher to their staff.

“The first problem is, we don’t have the space; our physical plant is at capacity. The second problem is, I don't have the budget. Even if we did have an empty classroom, we don’t have the funding to staff another teaching position, because of the ‘budget crunch’. It’s not just here. This is the case throughout our school system, and across our state.”

Parents want to see an end to increasing enrollment, Powell added. “Yet, we still have parents clamoring to have their children come to the school, because of our good reputation.”

About the trend of increasing enrollment, Powell commented, “This is the tail end, I think, of a transition in our neighborhood – from older families getting ready to ‘downsize’ – to younger families who are going to be here for the next 15 or 20 years. Once families buy a home here, they stay here, at least until their kids graduate from Cleveland High.”

Wrapping up the interview, Powell opined that “A good school is a combination of good staff, clothed, fed, cared-for kids who come ready to learn, and parents who support us in our mission. And, then when we work together as a team, this makes an outstanding school.”

Speaking directly to Llewellyn parents, Powell concluded, “Thank you for sending your kids here. We are grateful for your support, really. I still answer e-mails; contact me at: HYPERLINK "mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..”