PORTLAND — When the school year began earlier this month, something set the Howard C. Reiche Community School apart from other district schools.
Its enrollment is trending up.
But that’s nothing new for the elementary school at 166 Brackett St. Over the past six years, it has seen enrollment increase by more than 30 percent.
According to Christine Keegan, a teacher leader at the school, there were just under 400 students enrolled at Reiche by the end of last year. Enrollment this year is on par with last year’s, Keegan said, even though the number of kindergartners has fallen: the average has been 82, but there are about 65 now.
“We will probably have 70 by the end of next week,” she said.
To deal with increasing enrollment, the School Department budgeted money to allow Reiche to hire two new teachers. Reiche Parent Teacher Organization President Leah Whalen said the teachers – one each in second and third grade –has made a “lovely start” to the school year.
One reason for the school’s population growth has been retention of students. Students entering the school historically haven’t always finished there, because their families move away from the neighborhood. But that hasn’t been the case the past few years, Reiche teacher Kevin Brewster said earlier.
The class sizes without the two new teachers would have been in the mid-20s, Keegan said. She credited both the School Board and former Superintendent of Schools Emmanuel Caulk for their commitment to keeping class sizes down.
Ted Hummel, another lead teacher, said the ideal class sizes are lower than mid-20s. For kindergarten, he said a class size between 16 and 18 is best. He said first grade should be between 19 and 22, second and third grades about 18 students, and fourth and fifth grades should have 22 or fewer students.
Keegan said she doesn’t expect enrollment numbers to keep increasing, because housing in the area is expensive. But Whalen noted there are plans for affordable housing developments in the neighborhood, and their impact on Reiche’s population is unknown.
“The city’s plan is to make the peninsula as dense as possible,” she said.
Like all other schools in the city, Reiche had 20 additional minutes of education built into its schedule this year. Keegan said this has created a few issues, mainly with lunch scheduling and before-school activities, which will have to be moved to after school.
Hummel said the lunch lines were becoming very long, so they decided to stagger the recess and lunch periods by 15 minutes.
Keegan said they are exploring ways to make the activities, which include Arabic language, cooking and baking, and soccer, part of the enrichment classes offered by the PTO after school.
Outside of these trouble spots, Keegan, Hummel and Whalen said the year has been nothing but positive so far.
“The school year is off to a very nice start,” Hummel said.
The Howard C. Reiche Community School is one of the few schools in Portland where increased enrollment is projected.