MERRIMAC—In its first year as a charter, 47 students attended Merrimac Community Charter School. Twelve years later, the school has more than doubled its student population at 115 students.
That’s good news for the school, said lead teacher Sid Malek. But now the school faces a different challenge as it is one student away from reaching its maximum capacity.
To give the district time to develop a plan for Merrimac, the Sauk Prairie School Board voted in January to hold enrollment for the 2018-19 school year, only allowing students entering kindergarten to apply. Malek said Merrimac has 20 fifth graders this year, meaning it could potentially accept 20 kindergartners for 2018-19.
According to Cliff Thompson, Sauk Prairie School District superintendent, the student capacity number was based on a 2012-13 space needs study and the school’s multi-age format.
“There are various (classroom) configurations that go on every year,” Thompson said. “Class sizes are based on the student’s skill level, ability and the number of children in each grade level. Knowing the school was based on a multi-age format, the capacity was set at 116. Because the school is at 115 right now, the board decided to cap enrollment for 2018-19.”
Of the students who attend Merrimac, 18 come from Baraboo, one comes from Portage, two from Pardeeville, 75 from the Merrimac attendance area and 19 are intradistrict — meaning those students would normally be attending other schools in the district.
“The decision the board made to cap enrollment is so that we, as a district, can start having discussions on what expansion options look like,” Thompson said. “It will be a conversation about space. We are at a very low level of conversation.”
The district is also looking at adding pre-K, which will also factor into plans.
Although it is too early in the conversation for specifics – Thompson did say there has been “no conversation” about Merrimac leaving its current home. “The original vision for Merrimac was to use the existing elementary school building,” Thompson said. “It was very intentional. Every family had a choice to stay at that school or not.”
Malek said the school building is very important to the community, likely because of all the hard work parents, district staff and members of the community put into it over the past decade and prior.
“It’s been wonderful to watch Merrimac grow as a learning community,” Thompson said. “This pause, this enrollment cap, is not by any means a negative. It’s an opportunity for us to say what we are going to do.”