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Classrooms running out/HISD is in a tight spot

DEBORAH HURST Staff

TUE 12/02/1986 HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Section 1, Page 14, NO STAR Edition

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Some schools in the Houston Independent School District are so crowded this year, classes are being held in storerooms and - in one school - on the cafeteria stage.

Ed Kline, assistant superintendent for elementary schools, attributes the situation in about 30 schools, to the conversion of many adults-only apartment complexes to family apartments.

Joan Cullinane, principal at Elrod Elementary School at 6230 Dumfries in southwest Houston, said she prepared for a maximum of 800 students - but 974 showed up on the first day of school.

"Our enrollment has been moving steadily upward since 1983," Cullinane said. "We have used every available space."

Kline said the overcrowded conditions at some schools have caused HISD officials to ask the state to waive the maximum class size requirement - 22 students per teacher - in 61 classrooms.

Putting classrooms in out-of-the-ordinary places is not unusual when crowded conditions exist, Kline said. Cunningham Elementary at 5100 Gulfton in southwest Houston had 500 students last year but more than 900 now, he said.

The clang and clatter of lunch being served is a daily backdrop in Gaynelle Dewan's classroom in the Elrod cafeteria. Her 15 pre-kindergarten students often have trouble concentrating when the lunch rush begins.

But Dewan isn't complaining. Conditions at the school are so crowded, she feels lucky to have any space.

Two classes at Elrod are meeting in the school's storerooms, and a small walk-way leading to the cafeteria was enclosed to make room for music students to practice - two at a time

The pre-kindergarteners were given a makeshift room on the cafeteria stage because they attend school only half-a-day.

Cullinane said she has a waiting list for another pre-kindergarten class but no place to put any more students.

Classroom space is only part of Elrod's problem. Bathroom facilities are inadequate and cafeteria personnel begin serving lunch at 10 a.m. to accommodate 950 students in the 200-capacity lunchroom. More than 700 lunches are served daily, Cullinane said.

She said part of the school's library has already been converted into classroom space, eliminating the media center, and the music program was gutted to make room for a seventh first-grade class.

"We had six electric pianos and a television with a video recorder where the teacher made up her own programs," Cullinane lamented. "There was just no place to put them."

Enrollment began to rise dramatically several years ago when a number of adult-only apartment complexes in the area began renting to families, Cullinane said.

Elrod serves 10 apartment complexes and Maplewood South subdivision. None of the complexes existed when the school was planned, Cullinane said.

Kline said officials are studying several possible solutions, including use of modular buildings, permanent renovations and moving to year-round programs in crowded schools.

HISD is also renovating more than 15 schools funded by 1976 bond election.

Trustee Brad Raffle, in whose district Elrod is located, said crowding is severe in about 30 elementary schools, primarily in southeast Houston.

He said modular buildings are the answer at Elrod and many other schools. "We're probably going to have to spend about $2 million," he said.

Raffle said he has directed Superintendent Joan Raymond to advise the board of some workable solutions.

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