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Overcrowded schools are a sign of progress

Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School, which opened less than two years ago, was built to house 375 students. It now has 546, or 68 more than the 478 students who attended the school when it opened last year.

The school was designed to improve educational opportunities for children on the West Side, and many residents hoped it would make the area more attractive to young families and lead to revitalization of that part of town.

That seems to be working - too well. The flat section of the West Side has gone from two aged, underused schools to one overcrowded new one.

Mary Snow replaced Chandler and Glenwood elementaries, which averaged a combined 407 students over the last 10 years they were open. St. Anthony Catholic School, with 38 students, also closed in 2011.

That adds up to 445 students - meaning Mary Snow has 100 more students than those three schools combined.

The success flabbergasted Mark Manchin, executive director of the state School Building Authority.

"Since I've been here . . . we've never opened up a building where the day we opened it, it was too small. That has never happened," Manchin told Daily Mail education reporter Dave Boucher.

Without a doubt, having 550 students in a school built for 375 is a problem.

"We do need a fix," said Principal Mellow Lee. "We have way too many kids, and classroom size is huge: when you're talking about trying to teach students, it makes it very difficult to meet their individual needs."

Among options being considered, some students may be switched to Grandview Elementary School to ease the overcrowding.

A second new West Side school is under construction. It will consolidate the student bodies of J.E. Robins and Watts elementaries on a hilltop off Edgewood Drive.  

A few years ago, with enrollments declining, the county school board considered consolidating all the West Side elementaries into one new school. The West Side spoke up loudly and clearly against that idea, and the board listened.  

Here is hoping Mary Snow's problem is a sign of real growth.

A rebounding West Side that attracts a new generation of parents is important to Charleston's future, and as its capital and largest city, Charleston is important to the future of West Virginia.


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