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​​​​​​Case Study
Step Three – Educational Specifications

In working with growing school districts, different sets of circumstances can be experienced when trying to rectify feeder system balance issues. Grade configuration issues and capacity differences between school levels aren’t the only circumstances that present problems. The extent of build out within districts is also an important factor affecting potential approaches and solutions.

District A had four elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. Three of the elementary schools, all K-5, had capacities of 450 students each while the fourth and newest school was built to serve 600 students, also K-5. In addition, two of the schools were on the same site and functioned as a paired primary (K-2)/Intermediate (3-5) organization. The middle school could accommodate about 800 students while the high school was built to serve 1,200 students.

District A:                                                                                                          
Elementary A (K-5):  Capacity: 450 / #Grades: 6 / Capacity per Grade: 75           
Elementary B&C (K-5)*:  Capacity: 900 / #Grades:12 / Capacity per Grade: 75 / Schools to Fill: Avg = 81
Elementary D (K-5):  Capacity: 600 / #Grades: 6 / Capacity per Grade: 100  

Middle (6-8)^:  Capacity: 900 / #Grades: 3 / Capacity per Grade: 300 / Schools to Fill: 3.69
Sr. High (9-12):  Capacity:1,200 / #Grades: 4 / Capacity per Grade: 300 / Schools to Fill: 1.00           

*: Paired Primary-Intermediate schools serving grades K-2 and 3-5.
^: If all elementary schools were 600 capacity.

The two municipalities that controlled growth had approved Community Comprehensive Plans that, at estimated average long-term student yields, could generate enough students to fill at least six high school feeder systems. District B was a little further along in the growth cycle with two high schools, two middle schools and several elementary schools. Neither the high schools nor the middle schools had equal capacities and one feeder system served a primarily suburban environment while the other feeder served a rural setting.

Varying capacities in the elementary schools were an issue but were the least serious of the problems they were facing. Preferred planning capacities had been developed, which represented a balanced feeder system. Approval of a few K-8 charter schools also affected the imbalance but they had not been factored into the planning. In addition, the district experienced a grossly inadequate tax base and funding lagged well behind the growth. As a result, when new capacity was finally able to be constructed, the district could only afford to build an addition to its 1,200 student high school, bringing its capacity to 1,600 students, which created a significant capacity imbalance.

District B:                                                                                                                  
Elementary (K-5):  Capacity: 600 / #Grades: 6 / Capacity per Grade: 100      
Middle (6-8): Capacity: 900 / #Grades: 3 / Capacity per Grade: 300 / Schools to Fill: 3.00
Sr. High (9-12):  Capacity: 1,600 / #Grades: 4 / Capacity per Grade: 400 / Schools to Fill: 1.33        

The district’s enrollment was heavily skewed toward the younger grades so the administration knew that some serious planning was necessary for secondary schools.

Realizing the vast amount of growth planned, District A began planning for the long-term with the following preferred feeder system balance. 

District A:                                                                                                            
Elementary (K-5):  Capacity: 600 / #Grades: 6 / Capacity per Grade: 100

Middle (6-8):  Capacity: 900 / #Grades: 3 / Capacity per Grade: 300 / Schools to Fill: 3.00

Sr. High (9-12):  Capacity: 1,200 / #Grades: 4 / Capacity per Grade: 300 / Schools to Fill: 1.00      

The existing schools either fit this feeder model or could be viably adapted to achieve it. One of the primary advantages of having this information adopted by the school board was that the district could use these data when working with the local municipalities and county to acquire school sites in the correct locations. Working with District B involved considering ALL schools, including charters since they provided needed middle school space but not high school capacity. A quick analysis indicated that a K-8 school designed with four classrooms per grade at 25 students per classroom would produce the additional 100 students per grade needed to accomplish that balance. The charter schools were built with four classrooms per grade so they were compatible with the 100 students per grade model the district had incorporated. Including all schools’ capacities in the mix revealed that adding one K-8 school (could be charter or district operated) would balance the feeder system.

District B:                                                                                                            

Elementary (K-5):  Capacity: 600 / #Grades: 6 / Capacity per Grade: 100
Middle (6-8):  Capacity: 900 / #Grades: 3 / Capacity per Grade: 300 / Schools to Fill: 3.00                   
Sr. High (9-12):  Capacity: 1,600 / #Grades: 4 / Capacity per Grade: 400 / Schools to Fill: 1.33
                Option: Add a K-8 School:
K-8 (K-5 portion):  Capacity: 600 / #Grades: 6 / Capacity per Grade: 100 

K-8 (6-8 portion):  Capacity: 300 / #Grades: 3 / Capacity per Grade: 100

Total Middle:  Capacity: 1200 / #Grades: 3 / Capacity per Grade: 400

Sr. High (9-12):  Capacity: 1600 / #'Grades: 4 / Capacity per Grade: 400 / Schools to Fill: 1.00          

Although the high school addition was viewed as a “temporary fix”, the capacity balance introduced by utilizing a K-8 school alleviated the split attendance area concern. Further, the K-8 school was viewed positively by the school board from an academic perspective.  Thus, the high school expansion to 1,600 students became part of the district’s permanent planning with inclusion of a K-8 in each feeder creating the needed balance in planned capacities at each school level. The district favored the benefits of a K-8 configuration and had approved charter schools with this configuration. Thus, it made sense to explore the potential of utilizing this configuration to see if it could balance the feeder system. The district incorporated a K-8 school in with the other traditional schools in their long-term capacity and site planning.

In situations where several schools of varying sizes already exist it may be difficult to achieve the desired feeder system balance, especially if school size (capacity) decisions were made independently. Decisions about the appropriate capacities for each school level will likely require a good deal of dialogue and compromise to attain a planning balance that can be applied to establish site sizes (acreage) for future schools. That information is essential for working with municipal planners and developers to properly locate school sites. Further, an “optimal” capacity balance among school levels will certainly go a long way toward minimizing split attendance areas and improving operating efficiencies, particularly busing.