This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Aaron Moselle for NewsWorks
For the second straight year, W.B. Saul High School offered up more seats at its Roxborough campus for one simple reason: To give more District students the opportunity to enroll at a special admissions school.
A number of them took advantage. As of last week, the student body at the agriculture-focused school was 15 percent bigger than it was the previous school year.
At the same time, however, the school’s teaching staff has shrunk as a result of the Philadelphia School District’s ongoing budget crisis.
Saul now has roughly 575 students, but seven fewer teachers than last year.
"It’s been a struggle," said Saul’s principal, Tamera Conaway.
Now nearly a third of Saul’s classrooms — 18 of them — are overcrowded by state guidelines for student-teacher ratios.
Most of the overcrowded classrooms belong to teachers covering the subjects that nearly every high school student takes, including English, Spanish, and math.
The list also includes a few Career and Technical Education (CTE) classrooms dedicated to the agricultural coursework that makes Saul stand out in the city and beyond.
Some agriculture and animal science classes, for example, have extra students this school year, forcing teachers to alter their approach to some lessons, particularly when it comes to hands-on tasks, a hallmark of CTE.
"Some of our CTE classrooms have 29, 27, 28 [students] and we’re talking about one teacher," said Conaway. "They’re working in the fields, in the barns with the cows, with the horses, with the sheep, and there’s only a certain amount of students that can work with them [at a time]."