BAR HARBOR — “Next year’s freshman class is going to be gigantic,” Principal Matt Haney told the Mount Desert Island High School board Monday night.
He is expecting a freshman enrollment of 160, which would be a 28-percent increase over the 125 first-year students currently enrolled.
Haney said the large increase is something of a surprise because a couple of the K-8 schools on MDI have slightly smaller eighth-grade classes now than they did last year. But a larger number of tuition students from nearby towns already have registered to attend MDI High next year, and Haney said he expects there will be more.
“I think our regular education classrooms are ready to handle that,” he said. “It will mean some larger class sizes. I think we can manage that. But I want to make sure, to see if this is a blip or a trend, before we make any major adjustments.”
He said that, just as it is unwise to reduce staffing levels if enrollment drops for a year, the school shouldn’t add teachers on the basis of a one-year boom.
However, Haney does want to consider adding a special education teacher.
“That is one place where we have increasingly realized that we are short, particularly in the resource room,” he told the school board. “Our resource teachers have caseloads of between 30 and 40 students; they’re extremely busy.”
He said the school set higher expectations for special education students this year, and they have responded well.
“We’ve also exposed some challenges that kids have, so we have never put pressure on our special ed staff like we have this year,” he said.
Haney said the addition of a special education teacher should not affect the school’s budget or overall staffing level because he is looking at eliminating a position in another area.
School board members expressed no objections to Haney advertising for a new special education teacher for next year.
“This person would not only reduce the load [on the other teachers] but also allow us to put significant focus on students who have behavioral challenges and students who have significant deficits when it comes to meeting the standards we are holding for them,” Haney said. “They can do it, but they need a special ed teacher who doesn’t have 30 kids on their caseload.”
So far, 146 eighth-grade students at area schools have registered to attend MDI High next year. By town, the numbers are: Bar Harbor, 56; Mount Desert, 20; Tremont, 17; Trenton, 16; Hancock, 16; Southwest Harbor, 8; Lamoine, 6; Swans Island, 5; and Cranberry Isles, 2.