A Missoula-area school district is struggling to find room for students. Hellgate Elementary administrators say they've got room for a little over 1,500 students. Trouble is, that's about how many they've got and more are showing up every year.
A third-grade classroom NBC Montana visited on Friday is just one out of eight sections.
"Having 25 students is not a large number, no, but having eight sections, that's pretty significant," said Dean Perkins, a third-grade teacher.
Perkins can put it all in perspective. Last year, there were only six sections of third grade.
"It's exciting, but I think we're all nervous at the same time, because we have a lot of third-grade bodies running around in our school and when they line up for recess, we have a lot of kids to kind of organize and get calmed down," said Perkins.
The numbers are only going to increase
Hellgate Elementary has the largest third grade class it’s ever seen -- almost 200 students. They accommodate those students by hiring more teachers, but what it really comes down to is space.
They've hired two new third grade teachers this year and five overall.
They're creating more class sections in each grade in order to meet state standards for classroom sizes. The limit is 28 students per class in third grade.
"We just don't have any other classroom space. If I had to hire additional teachers, I’m not sure where I'd put them right now," said Superintendent Doug Reisig.
The school board created an expansion plan in 2009 to help with the growth. It was supposed to take care of the next 10 to 15 years. Now they're faced with three choices -- add on, buy more land to build on, or bring in mobile classrooms.
None of the choices are easy. But then neither is Perkins' job when classrooms are close to capacity.
NBC Montana was told by administrators that they should have a plan by the end of this school year.