Principal Justin Bartholomew sits at his desk, a drawing of the school’s floor plan in front of him. Dark ink circles indicate possible options for extra classroom space.
“Here I am with my map of the school, trying to figure out where we can put folks,” Bartholomew said. “I’m guessing we’re going to add teachers because we’re going to be gaining so many more students. We need to find a place to put those teachers that makes sense. The teacher’s lounge across from Coach K’s room will end up becoming a classroom.”
Tracy Jessee instructs her 28 Earth Science students as normally as any other science classroom, but her room was a teacher’s lounge only a few months ago.
“We did that in December,” Bartholomew said. “We turned that teacher’s lounge into a science room. It was great that folks and facilities were able to come and help us out with that.”
Northwood’s student population has grown tremendously over the past few years. Enrollment numbers have exceeded the original classroom space, resulting in unorthodox room placement and other small expansive measures.
“When I first started at Northwood six or seven years ago, the overall enrollment was right at 1,000, and maybe even less than 1,000,” social studies teacher Roddy Story said. “Now we’re up to, I believe, over 1,200 [current enrollment is 1,141], so you’ve seen over a 20 percent increase in students. I’ll teach over 200 students this year, and I think that number used to be closer to 140.”
Bartholomew acknowledged the fact that there is simply not enough space in the central area of the campus.
“The ‘core,’ so that’s our parking lots, our media center, our auditorium, those were all built for 800 [people],” Bartholomew said. “The school can hold [up to] 1,200, and we’re just under that now. We’ll go over that next year. Of course, we have the pods and the trailers to support, but if you look at the growth, it’s only getting bigger every single year.”
The school’s “growing” problem has attracted the attention of Chatham County Schools’ central office.
“I think the whole package needs expanding,” said Chris Blice, Chief Auxiliary Services Officer for Chatham County Schools. “Sometime in the future we will have to take a hard look at [growth] and make plans.”
In addition to a shortage of classrooms, the larger student population is putting more of a burden on Northwood’s limited parking spaces. One student confessed to parking at school this semester without a parking pass.
“By the time I got my license, parking passes were all sold out,” an anonymous source said. “It was roughly around the middle of the year, after the start of the second semester.”
The student found a way around their dilemma.
“I usually find a parking space by the tree line in the back of the parking lot,” the source said, mentioning the fact that their parking space does not boot another student out of their place.
“I think [the student parking at Northwood] is a little ridiculous because more and more kids get their licenses every year, so I don’t understand why expanding the parking lot would be such a hard idea,” the source said. “It’s always overcrowded and there are always other people besides me taking parking places up front in front of the school and the other places in the parking lot. Eventually both parking lots are full and everybody has to go and park elsewhere.”
Other students have suffered more than minor inconveniences. Junior Madelynne Smith’s car has been damaged “several times.”
“The first time somebody had backed into me because it’s very tight fitting,” Smith said. “The second time I backed into somebody else as they were driving by. It’s a really awkward situation because we’re all young adults and we’re all stuck in one place, and nobody can really drive very well.”
Smith believed her accidents were caused, at least in part, by the crowded parking lot situation.
“I feel like they should add another place where we can all park, just to expand,” Smith said. “There are so many students and it would make things so much easier.”
Administrators say they are working to find a solution to Northwood’s crowded parking lot. After spring break, students were allowed to park in the gravel parking lot where teachers had previously parked.
“The parking here is not anywhere near what we need it to be, particularly in the spring, because in the spring, everyone gets their license, and they’re all trying to park and there are no spots,” Bartholomew said. “It would be pretty nice to have the [expansion of the parking lot].”
Northwood’s expansion also will come with updated technology.
“We’re trying to get a new [announcement] board up, an electronic one, color LED preferably,” Bartholomew said. “We can recognize students, we can recognize programs, instead of just having one message up there that gets changed every so often.”
Another upcoming change is the manner in which announcements will be made.
“We’re getting big T.V.s put up in the cafeteria when you come in the main area and the bus lobby that will have announcements on them; it’s just another place for students to read them,” Bartholomew said.
For now, Jessee’s students are content to learn in their creatively placed classroom, and students park cars that seem twice as big as the spaces they occupy. But as Northwood’s population grows larger, expansion will become an imperative goal and other, more drastic options may need to be evaluated.
“We currently have three high schools in the county,” Blice said. “Two of [the county high schools] are close to capacity; that’s Northwood and J.M., and one of them is well below capacity; that’s Chatham Central. One of the things that obviously we would be considering sometime in the future is redistricting; moving students around the county so that we make use of available classroom space. Ultimately the school board makes all these decisions. That is a process and not an event. I don’t want people to think that there is some master plan, and we’re not telling anyone because we want to keep it a secret. It’s not like that. This would be a very transparent, open process.”
— Adrianne Cleven