St. Landry Parish School Board members, from left, Mary Ellen Donatto, Myron Guillory and Albert Hayes Jr. are shown at Monday’s meeting about Opelousas Middle School. (Photo by Harlan Kirgan)
Opelousas Middle School reconsidered
The student population at the new Opelousas Middle School is to be split with a second middle school to be opened at Creswell Elementary next school year.
Opelousas Middle School was created this school year for fifth- and sixth-graders, but reports of overcrowding caused the School Board to reconsider its action.
Joyce Haynes, an Opelousas Board member, said, “It is very fair that we know that we made a mistake in Opelousas. Opelousas Middle is overcrowded.”
In a special meeting Monday in Opelousas, Superintendent Patrick Jenkins said enrollment is 592 students at the middle school housed in the former South Street Elementary.
Jenkins reported classes sizes of 20 and 25 students per teacher.
The overcrowding is occurring in classrooms, the cafeteria and other areas, according to conversations at several Board meetings.
“We created this problem. We need to do something about it,” Haynes said.
Another Opelousas Board member, Milton Ambres, said, “We need two schools for these kids. It is too crowded at South Street for these kids.”
The middle school was created as the School Board responded to the need to alter the academic trajectory of the Opelousas schools. Besides the middle school, the Board closed North and Southwest elementary schools in Opelousas.
Jenkins said the school system may eventually realize $500,000 in savings from the closures.
But the two closed schools are possible sites for the relocation of an alternative school program now held at Creswell Elementary.
Jenkins said splitting the middle school population would allow the school system to end the use of three portable buildings on the middle school campus for a savings of $70,000 to $100,000 a year.
The Board did not make a decision about relocating the alternative school, which has about 168 students.
Mary Ellen Donatto and Albert Hayes Jr., Eunice Board members supported splitting the middle school population with half at the former South Street location and the other students at Creswell.
Donatto called Creswell in “mint condition” in urging the move.
There are 18 classrooms at Creswell, she said.
“I think we could comfortably accommodate those children, she said.
The Board may hold another special meeting to determine where the alternative school will be located.
The alternative school is for students being disciplined.
The creation of a middle school in Opelousas recreates the arrangement in Eunice, which educators say has been successful.
In Eunice, fifth- and sixth-graders attend Central Middle School.
Student achievement levels in Eunice have outpaced those in Opelousas, so the Eunice model was adopted for Opelousas.
A tax proposal rejected by voters in March 2018 that would have funded a building program and the closure of schools left the Board to change without additional money.
Eunice Board member said after Monday’s decision on the Opelousas middle school that it is unlikely any Eunice school will be closed.