DEARBORN — The Dearborn Public School District is tackling the issue of an overcrowded student population in both Fordson High School and Dearborn High School.
By contrast, Edsel Ford High School is below the limit at about 1,300 students, with room for more.
Approximately 2,700 students occupy Fordson High and just around 2,100 occupy Dearborn High. According to Superintendent Glenn Maleyko, the projected numbers for next year are 2,894 and 2,068 students, respectively.
Fordson ideally caps at 2,300 students and Dearborn at 1,800.
The average class size in these schools currently stands at 30 students per class.
Research, as well as those who experience the overpopulation first-hand, suggest this issue hinders teachers’ efforts and ultimately student progress.
The negative effect on teachers and students
Educators carry a weighty responsibility on their shoulders as they manage a classroom full of underage students on their own. Other than organizing lesson plans, teaching classes and evaluating student progress, they first and foremost have to interact with their students, encourage them and maintain a disciplined environment, in order to accomplish the latter.
However, teachers in the Dearborn Public School district find the overcapacity to be a barrier when it comes to covering all of that.
A 25-year veteran educator, who teaches at one of the two overcrowded schools, told The AANews that the issue is noticeable in the hallways and that no numbers are needed to prove it.
“If you walk down the hallway at any given time, there is no physical space to walk,” she said.
At the start of her career, the class capped at 25 students. But now, she has a class of 32 students.
She explained that the effect plays out in terms of not being able to meet all of the students’ needs, both academic and social, with an average of 30 students in each class.
“They have a lot of needs,” the teacher said. “You can’t meet their academic needs if you can’t meet their social needs. And even social workers can’t meet their needs alone, so teachers have had to take on different roles.”
She added that even though teachers are doing a good job accommodating, both they and students are experiencing stress more than ever. She said that even those kids who don’t have social issues but only need their academic needs met, suffer because there is a “longer wait time.”
“I meet a lot more kids after school than I’ve ever done,” she said. “They extend two to three hours half the week.”
The AANews also spoke to two Fordson High School students, a Dearborn native and an immigrant.
The 15-year-old Dearborn native said it’s suffocating between classes in the hallway.
“Students push and bump into each other to get from one class to another,” she said. “And it takes longer than the time given to get to class.”
She added that most of her teachers stay after school to help the students whom they couldn’t get to during the day.
“Sometimes, I can’t stay after school,” she said. “So, I miss out on the help I need.”
As for the 14-year-old immigrant, he cannot speak English fluently and has different academic and social experiences than those from Dearborn, so the overcrowding issue tends to limit his teachers’ abilities to meet his needs.
He said they do their best, but it’s difficult for him to assimilate because of the lack of individualized attention that he requires as a newcomer.
Board of Education looking at options
Board President Mariam Bazzi said that overcapacity is definitely limiting learning opportunities and space for students, so the board is doing its best to find an ideal solution.
“We want to make sure teachers are comfortable and that the students are best served,” she said. “While I think they’re doing excellent with the resources they have, I think it’s our responsibility to make sure we offer them every resource needed to succeed.”
Both Maleyko and Bazzi said the board wants to be transparent about the issue. They’ve been discussing it publicly and will continue until they reach a decision that’s in the best interest of the students, but they ask for the community’s input.
“I do understand that there were social media posts out there that frankly were inaccurate,” she said, adding that the dialogue should be happening at the board meetings in front of everyone and “not on the internet where things can be taken out of context.”
Maleyko said that overcrowding is actually a “good problem to have” because funding is based on student count and that helps the economy.
“Many other districts would love to be in our position,” he said, explaining that the district’s financial stability, high graduation rates and low drop-out rates are the main reasons why.
He said he believes until now it has been manageable because many students take classes at Henry Ford College, the Dearborn Center for Math, Science and Technology (DCMST) and the Michael Berry Center. However, he said it could be a greater concern a few years down the road as Fordson reaches 3,000 students and Dearborn High reaches 2,100.
He said the issue at both high schools doesn’t involve safety apprehensions, but has to do with the educational setting itself.
“[The schools] are overcrowded for an optimal educational environment,” he said. “Really, you want them to be around 2,000.”
For the short-term, Maleyko said they’re executing minor internal makeovers to make additional room in both schools, even though the changes are limited, until they come up with a long-term solution.
These renovations involve adding a few classrooms to each school.
He said that one of the long-term options discussed at a special study session on May 1 was to build a new high school, which would take at least five years to implement, at a rough estimated cost of between $70-90 million. He said that would entail a bond going to the taxpayers.
It was again discussed at the board meeting on May 8 at 7 p.m. in the Dearborn Administrative Center, but the board plans to look into it more.
Another proposal discussed was the boundary line changes that could possibly decrease the number of Fordson students to around 2,200 students in several years because it would be a transition.
Students from Bryant and Unis Middle Schools would attend Dearborn High. Edsel Ford would receive students from Stout, Smith and Salina.
Fordson would end up with students from Lowrey and Woodworth Middle Schools. But, the students currently attending high school would not be moved to a different one, regardless of the middle school they attended.
One proposal that they did decide on is to allow limited boundary line exemptions and eliminate the in-district school of choice.
The members are also in talks of a possible Dearborn High expansion and a separate Fordson ninth-grade academy.
Maleyko and the board said expanding Dearborn High is critical, irrespective of boundary line changes, but the board is waiting on data that could help them finalize the decision.
“We’re going to do a population study from two different outside groups before we make a decision on overall trends,” he said. “We already have one study, but we’re going to get two more just to make sure… We’re also going to do an architectural study on what it would cost for a second level expansion on Dearborn High, so we’re going to get a firm architectural design.”
The possible solutions will be discussed again once the studies are ready.