WISE — Wise County’s school division is off to a great start for the 2013-14 school year, according to reports received by the School Board on Tuesday, including an upward bump in enrollment — at least from initial numbers — after decades of declines.
Schools Superintendent Jeff Perry delivered initial, four-day enrollment numbers to the board that he credited to “a lot of good things we’re doing” academically and other programs, as well as facilities.
Central and Union high school attendance areas centering around Wise and Big Stone Gap, respectively, show promising upticks in enrollment, Perry reported. At the end of the last school year, enrollment was 5,803. The first four days of school this year shows 5,913, an increase of 110 students.
“Right now we’re cautiously optimistic that downward spiral has leveled off,” Perry said. The board based the current school year budget on 5,710 students, so the uptick “is a good problem we like to have” that includes hiring back a few teachers, he said.
In spite of a year of relentless rainy weather, high school construction projects are proceeding apace, he reported. Eastside High School in Coeburn is 88 percent complete, Perry said, or enough along to schedule a formal ribbon cutting ceremony at 5 p.m. on Sept. 30.
Eastside students returned to Coeburn last week after a year’s hiatus in St. Paul last year to permit renovations and new construction to proceed. Perry said “there will be some inconveniences” while the project is finished up while school is in session, but workers fraternizing with students isn’t one of them.
Workers know better than “have a lot of fraternizing with the students,” Perry said. “It’s almost always the other way around,” and students are being advised to let the workers be. Perry praised Eastside’s teachers, staff and administration for “going above and beyond” to transition away from Coeburn for a year and then back again.
“They’ve just been troopers,” he said.
Meanwhile, the new Union and Central high schools in Big Stone Gap and Wise are heading toward a January grand opening. Construction on the new Union High School began much earlier than Central, and Perry said he expects Union to be completed by late November or early December, so students will be streaming into Union for the first time ever come January.
Perry said Central is 50 percent “dried in,” 98 percent complete on masonry, 50 percent on the roof membrane, 99 percent on metal decking, 40 percent each on rough-ins for plumbing and electrical, 45 percent on HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) with concrete pours for outside sidewalks expected next week.
Perry said all concerned are “still optimistic” for a January opening at the new Central, but if need be he will advise the board by late September about possible discussions of an alternative move-in date. But January is the go to plan.
“We’re pushing hard and right now (Ballard Construction, the lead contractor for both Union and Central projects) still feels we can do this” in January, Perry said.
In other matters, Betty Cornett asked if the old St. Paul High School, now closed once again after serving as last year’s temporary quarters for Eastside students, should be turned over to the county.
Perry recommended against that because of the old school’s proximity to St. Paul Elementary School and athletic fields, plus the fact the gym and auditorium is used by elementary students.
He recommended the school division maintain control over the old high school to control traffic and safety in that area, as well as all the associated parking facilities. Perry said the school division works with “legitimate” civic groups or organizations who might want to have some use of the old high school facilities, including the athletic fields.