New Visalia Schools to Accommodate Growth

August 4, 2008 11:45:14 PM PDT
A South Valley school district continues to grow just in time for a big increase in students.The Manuel Hernandez School is one of the two new schools opening up in Visalia this year. While other Central Valley schools aren't seeing as much growth year to year, Visalia Unified is finding it's in constant need of more room for hundreds of new students enrolling each year.

Teachers are back at school making signs and putting the finishing touches on their classrooms. The brand new Manuel F. Hernandez School will open its doors to 650 students to accommodate a growing population in northwest Visalia.

Principal Cheri LaVerne says, "When a school gets so large, for example if it is over 1,000 students, it is difficult to really get to know the kids and to help them feel like they belong and that you care about them and know them personally."

Manuel Hernandez Elementary school will take 400 students from Oak Grove Elementary School just a couple blocks away and 200 from Hurley Elementary School.

Visalia Schools Administrator Doug Bartsch says, "If we had not opened Manuel Hernandez Elementary School, this year we would have 1,400 students in the Oak Grove School area and we like to see our elementary schools at 650-700 students."

Last year, Oak Grove Elementary School's population nearly doubled from when it opened four years earlier. One parent, Deidra Nelson, tool her children to get enrolled Manuel Hernandez on Monday. Nelson says, "It's nice because the city is growing really fast so we needed a new school."

In 2006, Visalia Unified had 26,384 students. That number grew by almost 350 students in 2007. So far, there are 80 more students enrolling in 2008 and officials expect that number to grow significantly over the next couple weeks.

The numbers are startling when you consider other Central Valley school districts, like Clovis Unified, are actually seeing enrollment decline. Officials say they pay attention to housing growth numbers. Doug Bartsch says, "But right now, it's a big question: we don't really know how many houses are in foreclosure."

Annie R. Mitchell Elementary School off Walnut and Ben Maddox Way is also opening its doors this year to alleviate overcrowding in southeast Visalia. Officials say they expect new middle and high schools to be built over the next several years to accommodate even more growth.

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