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Pitt Schools student population holds steady

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Students pass by in the hallway as they head to class at D.H. Conley High School in 2017. Despite the county's stagnant attendance numbers, several schools in the D.H. Conley High School attendance area are over capacity. Both Conley and Hope Middle School are operating at about 200 students over capacity.

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By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Pitt County Schools' student population has remained virtually unchanged for four years, according to figures released this month. But overpopulation remains an issue in a handful of schools.

Average Daily Membership figures show membership over the first 20 days to be 23,236, compared with 23,301 last school year, according to pupil accounting data provided to the state Department of Public Instruction. The population has hovered around 23,300 since the 2015-16 school year.

“(Pitt County) is still growing but it's not what it was,” said Matt Johnson, assistant superintendent of operations for Pitt County Schools. “With the growth not as great, we see the population of students almost flatlines.”

Johnson said the number of private schools located in or near Pitt County and an increase in the number of charter school options also have been factors in the absence of growth. He estimated that 3,200 Pitt County students attend private or charter schools.

More than 40 percent of schools within the district saw marginal population growth over last year. PCS Early College High School at Pitt Community College saw an increase of more than 25 percent, from 212 students to 269.

Despite the county's stagnant attendance numbers, several schools in the D.H. Conley High School attendance area are over capacity. Both Conley and Hope Middle School are operating at about 200 students over capacity, and Wintergreen Intermediate (population 850) and Primary (728) are 60 and 100 students over capacity, respectively.

Chicod School, which has a student population of about 900, is under capacity due to the opening of a 61,000-square-foot addition earlier this year.

G.R. Whitfield, which has a student population of about 460, is the only school in the Conley attendance area to be identified for open enrollment for the 2018-19 school year. Conley, the county's largest high school with a population of 1,665, is the only high school in the county that is not part of the open enrollment list, which also includes four middle schools, nine elementary schools and four K-8 schools.

“Capacity is one of the factors that they (Board of Education members) look at for who should be and who should not be on that list,” said Jennifer L. Johnson, public information officer for Pitt County Schools.

The open enrollment list includes every school in the Ayden-Grifton and North Pitt high school attendance areas, where many schools have student populations that are significantly below school capacity. For example, North Pitt, which has a student capacity of about 1,300, has a population of about 800 students. Belvoir Elementary has a population of about 400 students and a capacity for about 600.

Matt Johnson said optimal capacity is considered to be between 85 and 115 percent. The populations of almost 75 percent of Pitt County Schools fall within that range.

“At this point there's been no discussions of consolidation of any of the schools in the county,” he said. “We're looking at each school and each facility and how to best use it for the students, staff and communities.”

Jennifer Johnson said there also has been no discussion of redistricting. Pitt County Schools’ last student reassignment plan was implemented in the 2011-12 school year.

Modular units account for about 1,500 of the system's 26,000-student capacity. About 50 modular units are being utilized by the school system, compared with more than 125 about a decade ago.

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